The Grill, Brown's Hotel, Albemarle Street, London

Mayfair marvel

Brown's is a venerable old warhorse of the London hotel trade. It's the capital's oldest operating five-star hotel, opened in 1837 (the year Victoria ascended the throne) by the enterprising James Brown, who was once Lord Byron's valet, and has been stuck for eons with slightly moth-eaten labels of "refinement" and "gentility", as if its natural clientele were maiden aunts and decrepit urban relics of landed gentry. After Rocco Forte took it over in 2003, it was given a £18m spring-clean by his sister, Olga Polizzi. Now they've given the Grill a hose-down, by calling in Mark Hix as director of food, along with Lee Streeton (who worked for him at Daphne's) as executive chef.

This leaves me in a dilemma, since Mr Hix is not just an old friend of the Independent, but supplies it with weekly recipes in this magazine. Can one be coldly objective about the new-look Grill and risk upsetting the highly strung forager-in-chief? I decided to risk it, and went along to lunch.

Stepping through the doors pitches you back to the days when hotel restaurants were places of alarm and intimidation: fusty catacombs with napery shrouds and harried waiters. The feeling wears off, though, when you see that it's very coolly designed: wood panelling, wood pillars, snow-white tablecloths, green chairs and vases of what look to be silk flowers but are strange, waxy tulips. The only mistake is the addition of some truly horrible arty photographs by one Hubertus von Hohenlohe – kitschy fashion pictures of shopping malls and expensive travels, like advertisements for the Martini Generation, they fatally disturb the classy green-white décor. But the French waiters were attentive, the home-made bread delicious (the salt flakes on the roundel of butter were a nice touch) and the menu a delight.

One can play a game here, spotting the signature dishes of the new director of food. Roasted scallops with hedgerow garlic, that's terribly Hix, the West Country aficionado of rustic sourcing. So is the Romney Marsh beetroot salad with Golden Cross goat's cheese, the rabbit braised in cider with garlic and the roasted Devon Red free-range chicken. For nostalgists, there are vestigial traces of the old Trust House Forte style in the battered haddock with mushy peas, and the "Olde English Sausage". The Grill section offers five variants of steak, lamb cutlets, liver and bacon – it's a restaurant that's almost belligerently hearty, and I found it irresistible.

My monkfish cheeks with caper mayonnaise were a revelation, four gorgeous brown lumps of battered monkfish, to be spritzed with lemon and eaten greedily. Who knew fish cheeks could be so substantial? And though I find capers excessively pungent as garnishes, these cut the mayo to perfection. Beside me, Madeleine was fainting with rapture over the Cornish fish soup, and I soon joined her: its depth of flavour was astonishing, its seasoning faultless, its touch of dill inspired, its slightly grainy texture obscurely sexy. Whatever's in the fish stock, I wish I could take it home. These were two first courses of simple ingredients, cooked to a condition I can only describe as perfection.

For the main course, I chose a wild fallow chop with braised red cabbage and prunes, because I'd never eaten fallow deer before. Expecting a single chop, I was amazed by the profusion of meat that appeared before me – three huge tranches of what resembled lamb steaks, roasted medium rare, the flesh a beautiful pink. Its taste was a puzzle – it lacked the pungent, velvet intensity of venison, or the fibrous smoulder of beef – but was given some character by prune-infused cabbage and some delicious bubble and squeak. Madeleine's fillet of cod with seashore vegetables and cockles drew fresh raptures. "The fish is delicious, and I've never tasted vegetables so crunchy and punchy and delicately flavoured at the same time," she said. "It's a lesson in how to make cod interesting."

Struggling to finish a fumingly cedarwood-y bottle of Cahors, we marvelled at the size of the helpings, each one enough for two or three lunchers, and agreed we couldn't possible handle a pudding. Unsleeping devotion to duty, however, made us share an apple crumble with custard, which resembled an ignorant catering slab from Desserts-U-Like, but tasted absolutely heavenly, the crumble as fine as sand. The custard, with its tiny kiss of vanilla, came in a silver boat – and when we'd emptied it, they brought another. It's that kind of place.

This was the tastiest, most enjoyable and by some way largest lunch I've eaten in months. The Grill may not win Michelin stars for Ferran Adria-style imagination or ambitiousness, but its commitment to British food, lovingly cooked to bring out its finest qualities, makes it an instant favourite. I'll go back as soon as possible.

The Grill Brown’s Hotel, 33 Albemarle Street, London W1 (020-7493 6020)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

Around £130 for two with wine

Grills about town

Grill at the Dorchester

Aiden Byrne has breathed new life into The Grill with his sensational British cooking; mains include fillet of Angus beef with braised oxtail, watercress and glazed onions (£32).

53 Park Lane, London W1(020-7629 8888)

The Lincoln Grille

This recently launched addition to the Hoxton Grille stable sticks with the group’s winning formula: comforting, no-frills, well executed bistro classics.

The White Hart Hotel, Bailgate, Lincoln (01522 533500)

Gaucho Grill

The surroundings are opulent and glamorous, and the prime Argentine steaks are equally appealing: a 600g Gaucho sampler of four cuts of prime beef costs £31.

2a St Mary’s St, Manchester (0161-833 4333)

The Guinea Grill

Try a succulent, 28-day-aged Orkney Islands sirloin steak or one of the awardwinning pies in this raffish pub diningroom in Mayfair. Good selection of beers; around £40 per head.

30 Bruton Place, London W1(020-7499 1210)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before