The dispossessed of the Dorchester are still searching
Published 12 February 2006 News Review 656th article
Michael next to Stuart Johnson, centre, and Angelo Maresca (Anna Brown)
With the Dorchester Grill demolished by poor food and ghastly redesign, good English Sunday lunch venues are thin on the ground.
Claridge's, modernised by Gordon Ramsay is what it is. Which I don't want. Ditto the Savoy Grill. The Connaught has Angela Hartnett, part of Ramsay's entourage.
She's good, but it's not a classic English Sunday roast.
So I was encouraged when Rocco Forte bought Brown's hotel in Mayfair, spent millions on "improvements" over two years and then reopened it.
I went for Sunday lunch with Anna who shortly thereafter suffered a setback. She became my PA.
I said to my assistant Dinah: "Anna's looking forward to coming here."
"She's looking forward to it?" asked Dinah in disbelief.
"Yes, she's looking forward to joining me," I said. Dinah looked bemused.
"You've been with me over 20 years," I said. "Why shouldn't Anna like it?"
"She hasn't heard you shout and scream," said Dinah, thus closing the issue in her favour.
At Brown's the restaurant is a nice old-fashioned dining room. It's not trying to be clever. It isn't up its own rear. Panelling, wooden pillars, decorated plaster ceiling.
There's a historic restaurant manager, Angelo Maresca, who was at the Savoy Grill.
He'd kept two places for me, one by the window and a banquette opposite.
I chose the window table. Very comfortable green padded chairs. White roses on the table.
They offered Evian and Malvern mineral water, both excellent - and the dreaded Hildon. A feeble selection of bread. I took a roll. At least it was warm. As Anna didn't have bread they took her plate away. "What if she changes her mind later?" I thought.
The Sunday three-course lunch is £35 "service charge not added". Anna ordered fennel with baby spinach, mozzarella and rocket salad with balsamic vinegar from the a la carte. She's very posh. She described it as "lovely, a very interesting mixture".
I had smoked salmon and gravadlax. The smoked salmon is sliced in front of you. It came from Forman in the East End. They're the best. The gravadlax was very good too. Some rather white melba toast arrived, so they had to bring Anna's bread plate back.
We both had roast beef from the trolley. I chose red cabbage instead of shredded cabbage. On top of the beef they had a big slice of fat, which is normally thrown away. Before serving the beef the waiter dabbed it in the fat. I then asked for some to eat.
The beef and red cabbage were just about quite good. The Yorkshire pudding was fine.
Anna said: "My mother makes it better," adding, "the gravy is a little tasteless." It was awful.
For dessert Anna had Agen prune and matured armagnac creme brulee. Me - baked orange and lime tart with confit kumquats and coconut sorbet. The tart was about passable. I left a lot of it. Anna said: "The brulee was very nice. I left some only because I'm watching the calories."
In summation (I've never done a summation before) I'd say the food is not awful but it isn't good enough. It will not attract the many Dorchester regulars who, like me, now feel dispossessed.
I offer Rocco Forte some advice. Change your meat supplier to Allen of Mount Street. Get the chef who was at the Dorchester Grill and is now doing general catering there - Henry Brosi. He's exceptional. Or the previous Dorchester chef, Willi Elsener. He was marvellous too.
Then take restaurant manager Michael DiFiore from the Royal Garden hotel. He had a great following at the Dorchester Grill. Angelo Maresca is fantastic, but he won't stay forever. I understand he'll soon be there only on limited days.
The general manager of Brown's, Stuart Johnson, is a great professional. Stuart looked after me brilliantly at Cliveden before it went downhill. He was followed by a dreadful manager, Ross Stevenson. Ross went off to a ghastly hotel in St Lucia, which was still too good for him.
There he wouldn't let Simon Cowell in for breakfast wearing his towelling robe or a girl in his party in a sarong. So they moved to the Jalousie Plantation House, much posher, and without a stupid dress code.
Ross Stevenson made a lunch booking for 12 people at 1 o'clock at my friend Lord Glenconner's tiny Bang restaurant in St Lucia. His lordship personally went into Soufriere to get some extra food, whereupon Stevenson cancelled at 1.15pm.
Now Stevenson, who gets my all-time low vote for hotel staff (I love to bitch a bit!) is managing a reasonable Barbados hotel, Cobblers Cove.
That's called failing upwards.
PS: Anna has now been my PA for 14 days. She's excellent and sublimely happy. I'm a great employer.
Your assistant Dinah May, pictured with you at Izgara, is simply gorgeous. Would you please ask if she'll have coffee with me?
Charlie Parker, Oxford
Last week you told us you spend £3,570 on dinner for four. How? Unless they see you coming and up the charges accordingly. I'd love to experience that sort of dining, but only if someone else is paying. We can be flexible about availability. Sadly we're already married so cannot procure your services for our honeymoon.
Gabi Johnson, Kent.
We were surprised by last week's good review for the Jalousie Plantation. We recently returned and renamed it "Ja Lousy"!
R Abraham, Stanmore
Good to see Michael baring his legs again last week. The last time I saw a pair of legs as good as those Lester Piggott was riding them in the 3.30 at Chepstow.
Trevor Bailey, Brighton.
We're already married but my wife celebrates her 50th birthday on Christmas Day, 2007. You said last week you went on honeymoons for a fee. Do you do birthday parties? If so please send me your rate card as mentioned. We find your column terrific fun. I even think some of your readers get the joke.
Marvin Pryce-Jones, Barbados
You mention Ladera and the Jalousie Plantation. Ladera served up some of the worst meals we've ever had. As for Jalousie being the best beach ever - you're obviously not well travelled. We also stayed at Sandy Lane, which you rave about. It's a plastic, sanitised resort that would not be out of place in Las Vegas. You clearly have no culture, style or taste. Tenerife would be perfect for you.
Simone Aston, Kensington.
Michael raved about Izgara (Winner's Dinners, January 29). We were bitterly disappointed. It was overcrowded, noisy and not too tasty. Did they put something in his coffee?
Paul Rosswick, Finchley
You can't dismiss Finchley as "gently bizarre". This was Margaret Thatcher's constituency. You're obviously unaware of the statue of her, near the farm you mentioned, holding up a sword in her right hand.
Edna Weiss, London.
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