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A dinner at HIX, Brown's Hotel, Mayfair

Brown's is a venerable grande dame of the London hotel trade. It's the capital's oldest operating five-star hotel, opened in 1837, the year of Victoria’s ascension, by the enterprising James Brown, who was once Lord Byron's valet, and has been stuck for eons with slightly moth-eaten labels of ‘refinement’ and ‘gentility’, as if its natural clientele were maiden aunts and decrepit urban relics of the landed gentry. Rocco Forte took over in 2003 and the establishment was given a £18m spring-clean by his sister, Olga Polizzi. A hose-down of the Grill followed, with Mark Hix (Le Caprice, J Sheekey and The Ivy) drafted in as Director of Food, along with Marcus Verberne (whose CV mirrors Hix’s) as Executive Chef.

Stepping through the doors pitches you back to the days when hotel restaurants were places of alarm and intimidation: fusty catacombs with napery shrouds and harried waiters. The feeling wears off, though, when you see that it's very coolly designed: wood panelling, wood pillars, snow-white tablecloths, green chairs and vases of what look to be silk flowers but are strange, waxy tulips. Most arresting, however, is the clutch of artwork – an Emin neon here, a Rankin photograph there, a smattering of paintings by Fiona Rae, Peter Peri and Mat Collishaw.It’s worth going just to see the art.

The menu is made of aesthetically sterner stuff.One can play a game here, spotting the Director of Food’s signature dishes. Mixed beets with Ragstone goat’s cheese and wild herbs; that's terribly Hix, the West Country aficionado of rustic sourcing. So is the salt beef and bobby bean salad with Tewkesbury mustard dressing, the whole Cornish megrim sole and the Newlyn monkfish curry. For nostalgists, there are vestigial traces of the old Trust House Forte style in the fish & chips and the Lancashire hot-pot. The Game and Meat section offers no less than fourteen varieties of flesh, including venison, rabbit, partridge, grouse and woodpigeon: it's a restaurant that's almost belligerently hearty, and I found it irresistible.

My monkfish cheeks with caper mayonnaise were a revelation, four gorgeous brown lumps of battered monkfish, to be spritzed with lemon and eaten greedily. Who knew fish cheeks could be so substantial? The capers cut the mayo to perfection. Beside me, Gerald was relishing his Kentish purple sprouting broccoli with Oxford Blue; a lesson in how to serve a vegetable in an appetising and imaginative manner.

For the main course, I chose a wild fallow chop with braised red cabbage and prunes, because I'd never eaten fallow deer before. Expecting a single chop, I was amazed by the profusion of meat that appeared before me – three huge tranches of what resembled lamb steaks, roasted medium rare, the flesh rosy. Its taste was a puzzle, lying somewhere between the pungent, velvet intensity of venison and the fibrous smoulder of beef. Gerald’s pan haggerty with woodland mushrooms and scallions drew fresh raptures. He – a lifelong vegetarian no less - declared that he had never tasted vegetables so crunchy and punchy and delicately flavoured at the same time.

We both marvelled at the size of the helpings, and agreed we couldn't possible handle a pudding. Undying devotion to duty, coupled with sheer greed, however, led us eventually to share an apple and blackberry crumble with custard, which resembled a catering slab from Desserts-U-Like, but tasted absolutely heavenly, the crumble as fine as sand. The custard, with its tiny kiss of vanilla, came in a wooden jug – and when we'd emptied it, they brought another. It's that kind of place.

This was the tastiest, most enjoyable and by some way largest dinner I've eaten in months. HIX at The Albemarle may not win Michelin stars for Ferran Adria-style ambition, but its commitment to British food, lovingly cooked to bring out its finest qualities, makes it an instant favourite. I'll return as soon as possible.

 

HIX34 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP+44 20 7518 4004www.roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/browns-hotel/ 

Elisabeth Rushton

Elisabeth has over a decade of experience as a luxury lifestyle and travel writer, and has visited over sixty countries. She has a particular interest in the Middle East, having travelled extensively around Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE. A keen skier, she has visited over fifty ski resorts around the world, from La Grave to Niseko. She is currently focused on writing about luxury products fo...(Read More)

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