More than ever before, diners who care about their food will be interested in its provenance. It’s common to see a few dishes on the menu in any top restaurant that – quite rightly – draw attention to the carefully selected producers of the ingredients. Usually these are local specialised farmers, fishermen or artisans, the kind of people who live and breathe their produce and whose expertise results in the very best flavours, colours and textures with which chefs can work their magic. The Northall restaurant, overseen by Executive Chef Garry Hollihead at the Corinthia Hotel London, offers British cuisine and the only restaurant I can recall visiting which displays the producer of the main ingredient of every single dish on the menu.
Charlotte and I began, as we are wont to do, with a cocktail. Bassoon is the Corinthia’s musically inspired bar with a twist of Art Deco and a stunning bar that transforms at one end into a piano. We were too early for live music, although we did return later to be impressed by Ella Marie, a singer performing smooth, bluesy versions of a wide range of classic and modern numbers. Before dinner, however, the bar was lively with the post-work crowd and we were able to engage in some people watching as we waited for our cocktails. The cocktail menu is varied, with ingredients like the ‘dust’ of a number of spirits indicating a creative bartender. My ‘My Way’ was fresh and fruity, perfect before dinner, while Charlotte’s Ginger Roger Fiz packed a little more punch.
We passed through the bright and elegant Northall Bar on the way to the restaurant, a path which also took us beside the wide pass by which route the delicious dishes would emerge from the kitchen. Both of us craned our necks to see if we could glimpse a few of the dishes, in case that might influence our ordering.
Once seated, we were offered a rosé champagne flight as an aperitif. This was presented in minature labelled glasses in a wine flight holder (yes, such a thing exists) and comprised a Moutard Prestige Rosé, a Laurent-Perrier Rosé and, my favourite, a summery B. Bremont Grand Cru Rosé.
The first courses arrived quickly, so quickly that the sommelier had to rush to get our wine to us by the time we were midway through. I had a nicely rare pigeon breast, from Lake District Farm, with chicken liver parfait, pine nut butter and spiced popcorn, which added that unique soft-yet-crunchy texture to the dish. My wine, a Malbec Piedra Negra from Francois Lurton, Mendoza, was summer scented and full of fruity flavours that proved a great accompaniment to the pigeon in particular.
Charlotte had chosen the lobster, a favourite of hers, and I could immediately tell from her silence that the combination of native lobster, from fishmonger Matthew Stevens in St. Ives, Cornwall, with burnt kohlrabi, sea aster and summer truffles was the delicious cornucopia of flavour that the menu had promised. The wine was a Macon Blanc from Nadine Ferrand, Burgundy, with white flowers and a clean minerality, another success. We were interested to note that the suppliers listed on the menu were consistent, showing evidence of an established and trusted relationship. The meat and fish of our mains came from the same two suppliers as had the starters so we already knew from experience that we were in for a treat with the very best produce.
The stone bass that I had ordered came in an artfully arranged stack, on a bed of saffron potatoes, topped with a half-shell of sliced razor clams, baby fennel and a tangy new season garlic velouté. My favourite part of the dish was a sizable section of confit octopus, that was perfectly tender and had a divine crispness and charred flavour on one side. Although I usually prefer red wine, the light flavours of the dish demanded a white and I was pleasantly surprised by the light zestiness ofmy 100% Chardonnay Acero by Marimar Torres, Russian River Valley, California.
Charlotte’s wine was the complete opposite of mine, a Gigondas, Domaine St Damien from the Rhone Valley, that had a robust savoury flavour and an elegant finish to complement Charlotte’s meaty main. Not only did her main involve a Cumbrian beef fillet, cooked to her liking, but there was a crunchy crumbed portion of richly flavoured oxtail, served with melt-in-the-mouth smoked potato purée, caramelised shallots and parsley croquettes.
Our waiters, Sebastian and Claude, were excellent, exhibiting only the slightest pause when, as they removed the picked-clean plates from our substantial main courses and inquired about dessert, we announced that we also desired cheese! The cheese plate was a work of art, fans of sliced apple and pear, various crackers, five cheeses selected by the kitchen and two chutneys, all set off with a glass of tawny port. My personal favourite was the Stinking Bishop; previously daunted by its er… powerful aroma, I just loved my first taste! Creamy, rich and savoury, Stinking Bishop is rind-washed in perry, making the pears on the platter the ideal accompaniment, and tastes considerably more pleasing than it smells.
It being Charlotte’s birthday, the dessert was suitably spectacular. Aside from the elegant script on the broad slate that wished her happiness, we were presented with three full size desserts. We dutifully grabbed a fork each and began, Charlotte favouring the blueberry pavlova, which had a fluffy blueberry cream inside the crisp meringue and came with lemon poppy seed cake and lemon sorbet. Unsurprisingly, the chocolate won me over – a silky dark mousse with my own personal fine dining dessert addiction, chocolate soil.
By the time we left the restaurant and headed back to Bassoon, we were ready to continue the birthday celebrations. However, we spent much of the rest of the evening discussing the excellent meal we had enjoyed. With the very best seasonal produce from trusted suppliers around the British Isles, dinner at the Northall is an experience that we are likely to be talking about until Charlotte’s next birthday comes around!
Corinthia Hotel London
10 Northumberland Avenue
London WC2N 5AE