You wouldn’t expect London’s oldest hotel to stick with the same restaurant for its 182-year history but even for somewhere founded in 1837, Brown’s feels like it has been through more dining rooms than Britain has had prime ministers.
This latest incarnation (following 21st-century offerings from Mark Hix and Heinz Beck) comes courtesy of chef Adam Byatt, whose Trinity was one of the first restaurants to make a dining destination out of Clapham.
‘Nature to plate’ is a strong theme of the classic-meets-contemporary menu, though at these prices and in a hotel of this pedigree, well-sourced seasonal British ingredients ought to be the least one can expect. Overall, we found the more traditional English grill-room dishes to be the most successful.
Moxons’ smoked salmon carved from the trolley was meatily textured, assertively flavoured and served not only with capers but a new-to-us topping of breadcrumbs with boiled egg. A whole Dover sole, filleted tableside, was a splendid piece of fish, the meunière sauce bathing the moist flesh in buttery juices, while a side order of creamed potatoes was the mash of our dreams. A wobbly crème caramel, meanwhile, was encircled by a moat of Sauternes-soaked raisins and tasted deliciously of burnt sugar. All terrific stuff.
But a spiced cauliflower salad with labneh seemed more like cauliflower bhaji with yoghurt dip, a vast-looking chicken and ham pie turned out to be only half full of meat daubed in a too-thick leek and tarragon sauce, while a millefeuille had a well-made vanilla custard sandwiched between inedibly dry pastry. None of these dishes would come remotely close to convincing well-travelled hotel guests that British food has left its unappetising past behind.
Charmingly old-school staff deliver spot-on service and are happy to match the right bottle from one of London’s biggest wine cellars, while the grand setting strikes a delicate balance between history and the here-and-now, blending heritage booths and wood paneling with colour-pop fabrics and modern art from some famous names.
On the food front, however, we’d suggest you go traditional all the way – not least a Sunday roast with all the trimmings.