Food and Drink: Halcyon days for a hotel dining-room: It's being hyped as celebrity haunt, but Emily Green thinks The Room's young chef is the real attraction

THE Halcyon Hotel, a converted Italianate villa in Holland Park, west London, would have us believe it is plumbed with hot and cold running celebrities. It retains a publicist whose pawmarks are all over this Today newspaper dispatch by a journalist called Jenny Fawcett: 'American stars including Debra Winger, Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith love its English country house atmosphere . . . and when Tina Turner is in town, she normally takes over the entire dining- room. The more reclusive Lauren Bacall, Annie Lennox and Marlon Brando usually order their meals as room service - but with champagne on the side.'

The stars must have been of the reclusive variety last Saturday night. The dining-room was nearly empty, and for at least half the evening there was only one other couple in a lovely walled garden. (Ms Fawcett, you're fired - ed.) Except (just kidding, Ms Fawcett) the couple in the garden were Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia Fraser.

Perhaps the Pinters suspected this was the last place in London they would run into anyone. And the management appears to have had similar suspicions, for it has relaunched the restaurant three times in little more than six years. First it was the Kingfisher, then the Halcyon, and then, last September, it was launched yet again, this time as The Room, which makes it sound like a black-and-white film about insanity.

At present, its appearance is not much different from that of many trendy London restaurants - cool whites, twisty metal, weird and wonderful sculptures made from dried flowers - which in turn look like something out of Harvey Nicks. As for the cooking, the restaurant has been running through chefs even faster than names and designers.

The latest, a 24-year-old named Martin Hadden, has been there four months. His cooking was commended to me by an ex- employer of his, Shaun Hill. 'The Halcyon's an odd place, or at least it has been, but you take your opportunities where you find them, and Martin's a good cook,' said Mr Hill. He should know. He is head chef of Gidleigh Park Hotel in Devon, and a very good cook himself.

At 24, Mr Hadden seems young for such a job. However, he started cooking at the age of 12, when he worked in a chip shop. He won the Roux Brothers Scholarship in 1989, and worked at Gidleigh for two years before moving to London to spend a year with Nico Ladenis.

All this training shows first in the extreme care. Everything, from bread rolls on up (hotel chefs must be competent bakers), is freshly made. Breads are excellent, though perhaps the dough could use more fermentation to counter liberal seasoning with herbs and sea salt.

As for the food proper, Mr Hadden can cook, all right. I plan to go back soon and often for Sunday brunch in the garden. Where I proceed to quibble, it is because I think he can relax, put slightly less on the plate and in a more straightforward way.

To start came what was described as a 'light curried soup'. It was not all that light, but had fresh, sweetish background taste which I took for apple. In fact, it was apple, mango and banana. To the side, crisped rice was light, and intended as the vehicle for a rich fruit chutney, a tiny pot of which confused us and went uneaten.

For some reason, the menu seems to take pains to avoid calling things by their names. Salmon, advertised as 'marinated', was gravadlax. It had the texture of smoked salmon but tasted purely of the fish - dense, fresh and delicious. Mr Hadden says he used a dry marinade, pressing the fish with a crust of sugar, salt, chopped dill, grated lemon zest and powdered ginger, leaving it overnight and scraping the crust off. It was served with a dollop of creme frache, a sprinkling of caviar and chives, and heavy little 'potato bread'. This was not bread at all, but potato cakes, and perfect for the dish.

To follow, more good things, so many they were spilling off the edges of those huge designer plates. Roast rack of lamb came with the bone breaded, the meat pink and flavoursome, and a highly reduced jus, in which lurked a fragrant little thicket of rosemary spears. Roast garlic cloves were sweet and satisfying. A little nest of gratineed potatoes was cooked to melting point.

Another example of slightly daft menu-ese for a good dish: 'duck, steamed then crisp-fried, with honey and thyme dressed leaves'. Why not say crispy duck? Mr Hadden explains: 'The meat has been well steamed before frying. We want the customer to know the meat has been cooked.' So, it's official: the duck is cooked, and cooked well, though the fat could have been further rendered. Waxy new potatoes that have been marinated with shallots and olive oil stand in for a potato salad. The mustard, honey and thyme dressing gives it an oriental spin.

A little lemon tart came in a crisp crust, its filling cooked properly - still quite luscious and loose, topped with a pretty coating of summer fruits. It sat in a pool of what tasted like creme Chantilly. This seemed to me like gilding the lily; to the chef's mind it provides a nice quick hit of a cream and vanilla antidote to the sharp fruits. Chocolate ice-cream was slightly fatty, but good all the same.

The restaurant manager tells me she is brand new to the job. It doesn't show. Like the new chef, she appears to care intensely about her guests, so plebs like me are cosseted like stars. Given that the kitchen and front of house are up to excellent food and no-holds-barred hospitality, perhaps the owners can relax with the star hype.

Effort, instead, should go into the wine list. It is a short page offering five champagnes (from house fizz at pounds 19, to Cristal at pounds 95), 13 whites, two roses, 13 reds, three dessert and four house wines. There is scant originality - or effort - in this economy. The list is little more than a top of the pops play list: there's a decent cheap French chardonnay, La Serre, a Gavi, a Rolly Gassmann Gewurz, a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and so on. You will have seen most of the bottles cheaper on many other lists.

Moreover, there is a striking paucity of half-bottles for a place ostensibly catering to abstemious Californians, and those there are seem somewhat greedily priced. With three courses, mineral water, herbal teas, 15 per cent service, a half bottle of a Australian Semillon, Basedows ( pounds 8), and a half bottle of Californian pinot noir, Saintsbury Garnet ( pounds 14.50), we paid almost exactly pounds 50 each. Weekdays, there is a set two-course lunch for pounds 12.95, which sounds a snip, and Sunday brunch should cost from pounds 20 to pounds 30.

The Room, Halcyon Hotel, 81 Holland Park, London W11 (071-727 7288). Children welcome; high-chairs. Low- level classical music and jazz in restaurant. Open breakfast, lunch and dinner daily except Sat lunch. Major credit cards.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice