Perfect Dining in Westminster – Caxton Grill:
Is there any such thing as the perfect London hotel restaurant? Personally, I doubt it. There are days when my perfect meal is a pizza and a glass of red – and others when I crave the fine dining experience of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester. Central London hotels in my view have a particularly challenging situation. What is right for the jet-lagged American businessman fresh from his red-eye meeting and yearning for simple steak and chips is probably not the dream cuisine for the Hong Kong couple visiting for their pre-wedding shots on Westminster bridge and hoping to take home memories of the burgeoning London food scene. Caxton Grill at St Ermin’s Hotel aims to provide a balanced option that will suit all.
And, it seems to me that the only restaurant in this charming Westminster Five Star Hotel does a pretty good job of satisfying both. Providing that balance is a challenge in itself, but the comfortable and well-appointed dining room does help to convince me that I’ll be well looked after.
There’s delicious, homemade wholemeal bread and a well-herbed butter full of St Ermin Hotel’s own garden produce grown mostly on the rooftop! My companion happily sent the bread away after we’d had one slice – and while I’m grateful to him for his attention to my hips, I’d have continued munching away and dieted another day.
A glass of house champagne as aperitif obviously helps even more.
That said, I’d have failed to eat three courses with two side dishes if that had been the case. We had asked the restaurant to match our wines rather than drinking an entire bottle of house wine and the result was excellent. I’d always recommend that route if you have the opportunity. And, at the Caxton Grill, a corovin system allows them to provide small pours of the correct wine for your dish, while the clearly competent and experienced Portuguese restaurant manageress did an excellent job of recommending a wine to drink with each dish.
Now, I have to confess a prejudice. When I first started London-Unattached I went to St Ermin’s Hotel for a media event and was seduced by a tour of the kitchen and the Josper Grill. That visit predated even Adam Handling‘s tour of duty at the hotel but I was overwhelmed by what at the time was an unusual and impressive investment in a professional kitchen. Of course, the Josper and various other high-intensity grills have now become commonplace across the London restaurant scene. And I was curious to discover if this was still a London Hotel Restaurant with a difference.
So, I was torn when I saw the menu, particularly over the options for mains. However, since my companion, the Peskytarian Hedonist had his eye on the red mullet from the right-hand side of the menu, it fell to me to excuse myself for ordering from the listing of grill dishes on the left-hand side which showcases the altogether simpler dishes cooked on the Josper.
To start, though, I picked the beef carpaccio while the Hedonist ordered the lobster mousse.
Both dishes were stunning to look at and delicious, if somewhat overchilled. Served with a glass of lively and well rounded Hauts du Canalet Vieille Vignes rose the meal had started well.
My beef carpaccio paired delicate wafers of beef fillet with a basil dressing, crunchy smoked almonds, Parmesan Reggiano and some fresh basil leaves, it was a delicious and light start to the meal.
Meanwhile, the lobster mousse with poached prawn, puffed cereals and sea herbs was light but lacking a bit in depth of flavour – perhaps because it was apparently fresh from the chiller.
My companion ordered the Red Mullet as his main and was delighted by it. A delicious dish of two perfectly cooked large sweet-fleshed fillets of red mullet came with squash, clams, chilli and samphire. He seemed particularly impressed that he’d been served a substantial portion and remarked how perfectly cooked it was. His fish was paired with a Domaine du Pelican Arbois 2015, from the Jura. A Chardonnay from the Jura that tastes like a Burgundy wine – and a great pairing for this fish.
For me, more beef. I thoroughly enjoyed a classic 35 day dry aged British beef fillet – an 8 oz portion was on paper more than I needed, but I happily polished it off with some homemade bearnaise sauce, spinach with chilli and garlic and some fat chips. Paired with comforting and fruity 2015 Catena Malbec, it was the kind of no-fuss dining and drinking that makes life easy. At the chef’s recommended medium rare, the steak was a little less blue than I’d normally order, but beautifully flavoured and tender nevertheless.
I had refused to share my fat chips as all too often a side order comprises 3 or 4 chunks of potato. But that certainly wasn’t the case here. A common theme through the meal was excellent and generous portion sizes.
For dessert, given the amount I’d already consumed I picked the gin jelly with mandarin foam, citrus segments and lime sorbet which turned out to be exactly what I wanted – light, refreshing and with just enough of a kick to make a dessert wine totally unnecessary.
My hedonistic companion picked the earthy Beetroot Textures and was served a beautifully plated dish of sweet beetroot in various forms to make the textures (sliced, as a mousse and as a veloute). The dish was balanced by the acidity of an apple sorbet and the luscious sweetness of a Pedro Ximenez caramel.
Unlike me, he clearly wanted a nightcap and was kindly offered a glass of Pedro Ximenez el Candado, which I know will have made him a very happy man.
As for myself – I loved our meal and felt that the balance between gastronomy, fresh produce that grown on the roof of the hotel and simple dishes that would suit the business traveller or jetlagged customer was spot on. Yes, this is still a London Hotel Restaurant that works on all sorts of levels
There’s a simple bar menu too. And, there’s a fabulous afternoon tea at St Ermin’s Hotel that changes with the seasons but which always has a focus on honey from the bees that are kept on the roof of the hotel.
St Ermin’s Hotel
2 Caxton Street