The Grill at The Dorchester: “The most beautiful beef tartare I have ever eaten”
Grill rooms have been around in London for a century, first in department stores and then in luxury hotels. These days their functions have been overtaken by stand-alone steak houses, although the Savoy and Dorchester still possess them, but with quite different characteristics. The Savoy Grill was for decades the establishment powerhouse, where captains of industry mixed with politicians, editors and other assorted movers and shakers, while the Dorchester Grill was more accustomed to accommodating society figures and other individuals deemed to be celebrities.
The Savoy has stuck to its original brief under the guidance of Gordon Ramsay, while the Dorchester has shaken this off, removed the white linen tablecloths, turned up the background music and hired a lesser known 20-something chef. In fact, it would be hard to identify it as a grill restaurant at all, with only one or two items that might qualify for such a definition, while an abandoned rotisserie has become a part of the rear wall furnishing until it is discarded altogether. The cornicing suggests the space must once have housed a Chinese restaurant, but now it is more like a welcoming upmarket café. Tom Booton, the boyish head chef, formerly from the Westbury and Pied à Terre, has more hits than misses in his culinary style and has embraced a modern British approach, with respect for seasonal ingredients.
There is an extraordinarily good value set lunch for £23 for two courses and £30 for three, though the sides of chips or runner beans come in at £8 each. The set menu is double this, but in the scheme of things, this is still reasonably priced, with a sommelier’s selection of a dozen or so wines between £31 and £45 a bottle.
The brioche-style bread was delicious, though the accompanying miniature black bread loaves were less successful and cold. Following this, the amuse bouche of chicken liver parfait, foie gras snow and grape chutney had a depth of flavour and complexity that was greater than the sum of its parts. The Colchester crab tart with courgette and lemon verbena also hit the spot, but the real star was the beef tartare with radish, oxtail jelly and beef fat yolk, all sitting on a circular bread crust. Not only was this perfectly balanced but it was the most beautiful beef tartare I have ever eaten, with the yolk located in the middle of a circle of translucent slivers of radish.
The next dish of squid Bolognese, pine nuts and basil was a homage to Pierre Koffmann – it simply looked like a miniature plate of white noodles with a dollop of sauce on top, but was sensational. The veal sweetbread, potato pancake, bacon and cabbage was less memorable as it was overcooked, so lacked that sweet, almost chalky taste they normally possess.
The main courses were well-executed, especially the Cornish turbot on borlotti beans, helped along by a generous sprinkling of superb West Australian black truffle. The rib-eye steak with girolles was covered in slices of hasselback potatoes and was exactly medium-rare – though from its appearance and consistent texture, it looked more like a sirloin. Overall though, this is accomplished cooking with enough creativity and innovation to make it enjoyable and memorable. Seasoning is always a matter of personal taste, so if I return, I will make a point of asking the chef to go easy on the salt. Perhaps this wouldn’t be well received, because Booton said in a questionnaire that Maldon Sea Salt is the single ingredient he relies on most in the kitchen.
After the main courses have been served, diners are encouraged to walk over to the rear counter to have their desserts. On our visit they came thick and fast, the most enjoyable being a banana and chocolate cheesecake with caramel and pecans, with the strawberry trifle with lemon balm ice cream not far behind.
Altogether, it was a very enjoyable meal in casual surroundings – a far cry from that of a traditional grill room. When it opened just before last year’s lockdown, there were the usual white linen tablecloths, but these have been discarded in favour of bare wooden table tops. So, if you’re open to informality and interesting takes on traditional dishes, this is worth a detour. If you still pine for the atmosphere of a classic grill room, with its array of dark leather chairs and a selection of steaks from a wood charcoal grill, you will have to go instead to the Savoy.
Photos: Bruce Palling / Dorchester Grill / Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at The Grill at The Dorchester, 53 Park Lane London W1K 1QA, call 020 7629 8888 or visit their website here.