A Culinary Step Back in Time at The Caxton Grill.
If like me you sometimes wander round London looking out for its remaining Dickensian corners and imagining one’s ancestors swishing around town in their hooped skirts and crinolines, then the Victorian London tasting menu at the Caxton Grill is a treat. Rather than slavishly trying to mimic 19th-century dishes, Head Chef Alex Boyd has instead added his own twist, making them lighter and more palatable for the 21st-century diner. This spacious, comfortable restaurant forms part of St Ermin’s Hotel and both are located in buildings originally built as mansion blocks in 1889 towards the end of Queen Victoria’s long reign. I started with the London Particular soup, a successful reinvention of the traditional split pea soup. Taking two old-fashioned terms for the fogs that used to descend on the city, pea-souper (itself named for the soup) and London particular, there was, as in many of the menu’s dishes, a lot of deconstructing going on. The split pea element was presented as a light quenelle sitting on top of miniature cubed vegetables. Our waiter completed the dish by adding a vegetable broth at the table. The result was surprisingly light for pea soup, subtly flavoured and probably my favourite dish of the evening. Dainty isn’t a word one normally associates with traditional pie and mash, but it certainly applied to this starter. Eel Pie & Liquor came beautifully plated, a neat and tiny pie with a golden crust, the usual mash transformed into a potato terrine, the liquor, not the familiar electric green but still well flavoured with parsley. Beer and beef are a classic combination and worked well here in the main dish, Ox Cheek Braised in London Ale. This was a very meaty dish and tender thanks to a good balance between fat and lean, with the fat well rendered. The celeriac puree was delicious and I would have liked more of it. The malt foam looked pretty on the plate but the flavour was somewhat lost among the dish’s bolder elements. My companion said of his main dish, “this is the best cod I’ve had in a long time”. The Pan-fried Cod was an original take on fish and chips, with gin batter crisps perched on top of the cod and a dark green watercress emulsion providing an earthy alternative to mushy peas. Triple cooked chips were good too. In the spirit of the rest of the meal, the puddings were reinventions of nursery classic Apple Charlotte and Cherries Jubilee, apparently one of Queen Victoria’s favourites. Both were a mix of sweet and sharp, using the combination of tart fruit and sugary elements to good effect. My friend tried the paired Fuller’s beers offered alongside the Victorian London menu. He was particularly taken with the ESB, its rich flavour taking him straight back to his teens and the pubs of west London in the days before anyone had heard of IDs. I picked the Pinot Grigio Ramato Collio 2018 Visintini Friuli, available by the glass for £11 or the bottle for £47. Described as orange on the wine list, this was almost a rosé, with a coppery hue from the Pinot Gris skins. It was very smooth and served well chilled in pleasingly thin-lipped glassware.
All in all, this was a meal with lots of interest in a welcoming environment supported by friendly service. It is good to see a hotel restaurant without a famous chef’s name above door offering something inventive and, in this case, very London.
3-Course Menu £45 Beer tasting £20
2 Caxton Street, Westminster,
London SW1H 0QW
0207 227 7777
The Victorian Menu is available till the end of November but then takes a break for Christmas. Fear not, it will be available again in January 2020.