Someone once told me that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. My best friend Megan falls into the last category.
We were inseparable while at university, but flash forward five years and the real world’s happened. Between work, travel and hectic London life, we now have to pencil in our catch-up weeks in advance.
It does mean that when we do see each other, it merits a long, lazy and elaborate meal… and the new Grill at the Dorchester Hotel fit the bill quite nicely for our most recent chinwag. After all, what better venue for reliving our days at Oggsford than at another timeless institution, reminiscent of old world charm?
Tracing it’s roots back to 1931, the hotel’s iconic restaurant is steeped in an ornate grandeur. The original gold doors and ceilings still have pride of place, alongside contemporary features introduced by interior architect Bruno Moinard – including pivoting wall panels that effortlessly pull off a day-to-night vibe, creating a distinctive appearance at lunch and dinner!
A dazzling hand-blown Murano glass chandelier adds to the sense of occasion but what’s particularly striking, is the manner in which it’s artfully complemented by the Murano detail gracing the lamps, candles and even drinking glasses.
With rich leather banquettes that have been furnished by Rolls Royce, we were pleased to find that comfort isn’t compromised in the name of such lavish opulence.
Sinking back quite comfortably, we commenced our evening with an aperitif – a crisp glass of Laurent Perrier each – while nibbling on light appetisers which discreetly arrived as we perused the menu…
A delicate smoked salmon pâte for Megs.
While as a veggie alternative, the kitchen thoughtfully whipped up a butternut squash and pumpkin version for me, gently seasoned with herbs.
Helmed by Alain Ducasse’s protégé, Christopher Marleix, the menu at the Grill is centred on modern grill dishes that champion organic British produce – we were told that apart from the foie gras, all ingredients are locally sourced!
Megs started with hand-dived scallops, served with black pudding and an autumn salad. There was much to her liking in the subtle but rich flavours complemented by a dressing that enhanced but did not overpower.
Having spotted a dedicated sweet soufflé menu for dessert, I strategically decided to pace myself, opting for a for a veggie take on a Caesar’s salad, sans bacon or chicken. It might look plain but the combination of fresh iceberg lettuce, soft cheese and the most scrumptious baked Parmesan crisps, was actually spot on.
By now, we’d moved on to red wine, expertly guided by the Grill’s sommelier Ricardo who chose for us a Barbera d’Alba. Light and well-balanced, the velvety wine from Italy’s truffle region was an elegant accompaniment to our meal, yielding a lovely fruity bouquet.
For mains, Megs chose cod that arrived in a frothy pool, alongside shellfish, kale and potatoes. She found it cod do no batter, with the flavours in perfect harmony.
A pumpkin risotto, laced with parmesan, was ideal for me on that chilly autumnal evening.
The dish was hearty, wholesome yet refreshingly light – as with much else of what we ordered, it was bound with a kiss of olive oil rather than drowning in copious amounts of butter and cream, thus allowing the underlying textures to really shine through – a firm nod to Ducasse’s school of cooking.
Although limited in choice, I found that the veggie dishes at the Grill were not just an afterthought. We had the chance to catch up with restaurant’s charming sous-chef, Cornelia, who explained how she went vegetarian for a month – an experience that’s clearly translated into a profound respect for vegetarian food.
The pièce de résistance of our meal was of course the eagerly anticipated soufflé.
Presented with an extensive choice that included chocolate, rum, vanilla and pear, we ultimately settled on a pistachio soufflé, served with salted caramel ice cream. Light and fluffy with a touch of nuttiness and that glorious melt-in-your-mouth quality – it was each girl for herself. Spoons clanged as we made our way through the towering dessert…
… Before clamouring for a taste of the other treats in front of us.
The contemporary lemon tart was just heavenly, with the tart lemon filling beautifully offset by the crunchy sweetness of the meringue exterior.
The rich bittersweetness of the ‘Essentially chocolate’ dessert from Alain Ducasse Manufacture in Paris, served with Italian-style coffee granita, was also a delight for both the dark-chocolate lover and caffeine junkie in me.
Ricardo’s astute wine pairings also continued into the evening, uncannily tailored to our individual tastes as well as to the desserts that we were indulging in… For Megan, he selected an Italian dessert wine that was intensely sweet; and for me, a French wine with a much more subtle sweetness.
I have to say that it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Ricardo throughout our meal, which turned out to involve an unexpected but very welcome education in the art of fine wine! I’m definitely keen to return to the Grill for the wine dinners that the restaurant regularly hosts, pairing a five-course menu with six carefully selected wines from Château Lafite Rothschild…
As deeply immersed in conversation as we were, the immaculate staff at the Grill may have sensed that we were not quite ready to leave just yet…
Bringing out two delicate pots of chocolate panna cotta, exactly the reason we needed to linger a little while longer!
It was altogether a rather perfect Sunday evening, and one that’s set the bar extremely high for our next girlie night out on the town!
The Grill at the Dorchester, 53 Park Lane London W1K 1QA
My dinner was complimentary but as always I hog full credit for my opinions.