Claridges. The Reading Room. Shhh!
Have you ever eaten in the The Foyer and Reading Room at Claridges? Thought not. You’ll have heard of the main restaurant, soon to be occupied by Simon Rogan, whose flagship restaurant at the Midland Hotel in Manchester has undoubtedly transformed that dowdy dowager duchess of an hotel dining room but has also divided the critics. I am not sure whether he plans to use the produce from his own farm in Cumbria at Claridges, but it will certainly be very different to the rather tired Gordon Ramsay offering previously occupying the space and now quietly laid to rest.
But meanwhile, if you want to dine in the legend that is Claridges, you have the choice of The Foyer or The Reading Room. The Foyer is not a foyer in the usual sense, but is an actual and spectacular room, just adjacent to the main lobby of the hotel. Art Deco arches of splendour greet you as you walk through the main entrance. Understated it is not, attracting a mix of ladies who lunch, out-of-towners and hotel residents. And hidden away to the left of the look-at-me Foyer is today’s destination of choice, The Reading Room.
You wouldn’t know that it was there, if you didn’t know that it was there. And clearly at some time in its past, it was a somewhere where you simply sat and read the papers. No longer. Unlike The Foyer, this is chock-full of local hedgies and money-men and older couples, wanting a quiet and discreet dinner. The room is much more subdued than its glitzy neighbour and has large comfortable armchairs and dining chairs, set amongst three large pillars, which, painted red, resemble the funnels of an ocean-going liner. And it does have that stately, unhurried, old-fashioned ocean-liner feel about it.
Lined in mustard-coloured wallpaper, with old black and white of famous guests dotted around, (we were sat under the rather intense gaze of a young Yul Brynner) this is quiet luxury. It is also a perfect place for a low-key business lunch or dinner, as tables are set at a respectful distance from each other and the plush soft furnishings drown out any extraneous sound. There is no music other than the gentle plinkety-plink coming from the piano in the next room.
This is not fashionable. This is not trendy. This is old-fashioned style and elegance.
As you would expect, the menu is not what you and I would call ground-breaking. No small sharing plates here. There is a set lunch menu for £35 a head, which looks to be good value, for the location and the service. Needless to say, we did not have that.
Decent rye sourdough, delivered on a marble slab, comes with good fresh butter. As I am still notionally trying to reduce my carbohydrate intake I cannot report to you first-hand on its actual consistency but it looked extremely delicious and was hoovered up by one of my partners with ease.
Heritage carrots and goat’s curd with pumpernickel granola was my starter. It came with roasted beetroot of two colours, carrots the colour of parsnips, one extremely long roasted carrot draped across the plate and delicious crunchy pumpernickel on the side. Lovely fresh goat’s curd under the vegetables, on this prettily presented dish. Elaborate in appearance, but simple in flavour, this was a tasty but light starter.
It was followed by that old classic, Dover sole Meunière. I asked for it to be on the bone, but it came already de-boned. I forgave them this, as it was so beautifully done and frankly I couldn’t be bothered to wait and they couldn’t really put it back on the bone and I couldn’t bear the idea of waste and the fish looked extremely inviting. It was good. Freshly-made hollandaise served with it. The Dover sole is (please sit down) £42 but note that it does include two side dishes, which each separately cost £7, were you to buy them. I chose broccoli and cauliflower cheese. I would not travel across London to have those two side dishes again, but they were adequate.
Service was formal and deferential, as you would expect. We did have to gesticulate rather wildly on a number of occasions to obtain that service, but once it came, it was very polished. Small errors were made: a lobster bisque was cold and had to be sent back, a simple tomato salad came as an ornate salad with many other ingredients, but these were minor quibbles and they didn’t charge us for our teas and coffees after the meal, by way of an apology.
Sophisticated and sedate, this is a perfect place for a grown-up business lunch with important clients or perhaps even a treat for your elderly relatives. Or yourself, should you wish to be a grown-up. It is discreet and elegant, old-fashioned, in a good way and extremely polished. This is one of those little London secrets. I’m sharing it. I’m good that way.