Holborn Dining Room. Middling in Midtown.
The first thing you’ll notice is the suit. It must have been quite a challenge to find an outfit that could hold its own in this glamorous, cavernous room but the maître d’has managed it, with aplomb.
The self-styled HDR is the main restaurant of the new Rosewood Hotel, in that no-man’s land area of High Holborn known as mid-town. Decked out with plush red leather banquettes and well-spaced tables, this is an impressive room. There are a few high tables and stools which you could use for drinks and snacks, but they were all empty for the duration of our meal. As was much of the restaurant. Cocktails are a bargain for central London and it may be worth trying this for those alone. You could quite happily sit for a couple of hours after work, with a plate of charcuterie and a bottle of wine.
Out with C and friends from New York, this was a neutral choice: none of us had been and E wanted to see how restaurateur Des McDonald would tackle this space. On the evidence of this visit, I’m not sure I will be rushing back any time soon.
Granted, it hasn’t been open very long, but the initial tsunami of enthusiasm that seems to greet every major new London opening has clearly subsided. Unlike other lauded hotel/dining room openings I could mention (yes, Chiltern Firehouse, I mean you) the party seems to be happening elsewhere.
The menu is classic British brasserie cuisine, if that’s a thing, although there are certain dishes which would not sit comfortably in that genre. Shrimp burger is one such. I do however, applaud the inclusion of cheap and cheerful dishes such as Corned Beef Hash with Fried Duck egg, at £10.50 and at first glance, the menu does not appear to be particularly expensive. I confess that I was a little taken aback at the £60 per head price tag, given that not all of us had three courses. Charging for bread is the sort of thing that can bump up your bill. The silent filler.
My HDR Waldorf salad was good, but not memorable. We had to ask for the bread, which was charged separately. “Ancient bread”. Whatever that means. It was a white sourdough with a good crust.
E’s Potted Shrimp was delicious – I had a taste. Unlike C, who needs some encouragement, E is a natural sharer. Served at room temperature, with just a hint of mace and cayenne pepper and a side of rarely seen, wafer- thin Melba toast of memory, this was a success.
I don’t know why, but I thought that fish and chips (£17) would be a good idea. Perhaps the mushy peas were speaking to me. I should have ignored them. It was a generous piece of fish, but the batter was a little too heavy and the fish was slightly overcooked. You need space between the batter and the fish – there wasn’t any. The batter needs to be crunchy and a bit uneven with crisp bits you can pick off. The chips were good though. The peas, served under the slab of fish were lukewarm and they were too dry. I’m a Northerner. They need to sort those peas out. Perhaps I should have chosen the Steak and Mushroom Pie. E chose that, naturally. All E’s choices trumped mine. I had choice envy.
Desserts were fairly classic British fare: Boozy Sherry Trifle and Steamed Treacle & Whisky Pudding with Custard were the ones we ordered. No complaints.
It’s not noisy, though they play some rather incongruous soft rock rather too loudly. Maybe the background jingle jangle is there to mask the fact that the room would otherwise resemble a morgue. And the service, whilst very friendly, is still a little bit hit and miss.
There is, I feel, a bit of a mismatch between the glamour of the room and the slightly pedestrian nature of the food. I suspect that there’s a need to satisfy not only hotel guests (hello, HDR burger) but also local office workers/professionals. In trying to appeal to such a wide audience it doesn’t seem to have a firm identity. And perhaps this isn’t food which can stand up to the surroundings. But getting it right in an hotel can be done. Look at the Ace, or Berners Tavern. They’ve managed to keep the momentum going. This hasn’t quite got the momentum started.