Lunch at The Caxton Grill, St Ermin’s Hotel:
When I first started writing London-Unattached, one of the first places I visited was St Ermin’s Hotel. It was for a PR event, I was incredibly nervous and I had no idea what to expect. I’d always been a marketing person, organising that kind of thing and now I was the other side of the fence. What I actually got was an introduction into the London food scene, courtesy of Food 4 Media, some fabulous canapes and a peek into the kitchens, including a showcase of the new Josper oven. But it wasn’t a meal as such.
So I was delighted to be invited back this year to review the restaurant itself. The Caxton Grill. As it turns out, the invitation coincided with my fellow diner and writer, Simon’s Birthday. Perfect timing.
The restaurant itself is relatively informal. The hotel lobby is grandiose but the Caxton Grill is the kind of place that if you were on holiday in London you could wander in wearing chinos and trainers, although it’s smart enough to work for a business meeting too. The menu is simple without being constrained and we easily found dishes to please, although both of us were keen to try steak from the Josper.
Our starters were, quite unexpectedly, amazingly beautiful to look at. I’d ordered salmon with horseradish while Simon from By-Invitation went for grilled asparagus with an egg. What arrived could quite easily have come from one of those michelin star kitchens that specialises in pretty, foraged food.
Of course as someone pointed out to me today, it’s not about what it looks like, but what it TASTES like that matters. I can assure you that my salmon was flakey, moist, the horseradish just nicely biting without being overpowering and the garnish of finely chopped herbs a lovely accompaniment. As for the asparagus and egg, my phobia of that yellow runny stuff stopped me trying what appeared to be a picture perfect execution of the dish, but since it was all eaten in lightening speed I suspect it was good.
On to the steaks. The Chef’s cut was a fillet steak, which suited me perfectly, while Simon ordered a rib eye.
Encouraged by the waitress we picked two green vegetables (wilted spinach and broccoli with hollandaise) and a double order of chips. Well it was a birthday celebration after all!
Everything was presented immaculately and the steaks were cooked exactly to order.
What’s interesting for me about the Caxton Grill menu is that they manage to tread that precarious line between producing food for travellers and destination restaurant food, without too much compromise. Of course, it’s easy to do if you operate two restaurants (like Bar Boulud and Dinner at the Manderin Oriental in Knightsbridge for example). But, when there is really only one dining option, it is quite a challenge to produce food that will satisfy visitors who are looking for simple, easy food alongside those who want something a little more challenging. Caxton Grill seems to achieve that by balancing the grill dishes against a few starters and main courses (our own starters are testament to this approach). And while the die-hard food lovers might protest that compromise shouldn’t be necessary, anyone who has suffered jet lag and just wanted a simple, well cooked meal will probably agree that any Central London hotel needs to offer food that requires no thought on the part of the diner. Which for the most part conflicts with the needs of a destination restaurant.
In a sense the lovely dessert sent out by the kitchen for Simon’s birthday has made it hard to really review our final course. I wouldn’t have ordered another course at all, and normally would have left him to pick something that we could share.
But, since it was Simon’s birthday, something special appeared from the Kitchen. I*think* it’s upside-down somehow, although the writing is the right way up. I was trying my best not to get in his way because he looked totally thrilled. And in retrospect what I SHOULD have been taking a photo of was his face. But I was fixated by those little bits of gold leaf!
My dessert was a chocolate and apricot mixture. It was the sort of thing I really didn’t need to eat and really shouldn’t have ordered. But once it was there, somehow I found space!
And then my coffee appeared with home made petit fours
All in, an excellent meal. I thought there were a few things that might just have been a little tidier. Somehow the dessert presentation didn’t work for me – just a little too fussy and the wonderful steak knives (they were laguiole) were a little blunt.
But, everything we ate tasted wonderful. And that, at the end of the day, is what matters.