Chef Adam Byatt replaces Heinz Beck at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, bringing tradition and old fashioned dining to London’s oldest hotel. However, does it hit the mark? Our writer, Kieran Faulkner ventures over to find out…
It’s pretty hard to miss Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel, even in the affluence of its Mayfair location. The large brown pillars and opulent interior design give you an idea of the building’s luxury status and nearly two centuries long history. Imposing? Slightly scary? Sure! However the warm welcome you’re given into the building is one you’d expect from one of London’s oldest hotels. Brown’s has spent 182 years in near constant operation apart from a full renovation in 2004 but there’s always still room for change.
In the spirit of this, Rocco Forte has appointed Adam Byatt as Chef Director to replace Heinz Beck in operating the hotel’s restaurant, now christened Charlie’s. It’s a choice that certainly makes sense; Adam has worked for Rocco Forte before and has a history of working in luxury hotels, having trained at Claridge’s when he was sixteen. His accolades include a Michelin star under his belt with his restaurant Trinity, previously situated in Clapham. There’s a family connection here too as his grandfather was a bell boy at this very hotel.
So, what’s changed?
From first glance, nothing much. Décor-wise, the restaurant is essentially the same as its previous incarnation. The botanical print remains above the heavy wood panelling of old, an attempt to lighten up the ‘Boys Club’ feel the restaurant had in the past. However, it is the past that seems to inspire Adam’s approach to the food. From seemingly straight out of the 1950’s, a silver tray roams around the restaurant presenting the Dish of the Day – in this case a whole large dressed Loch Duart salmon. On the à la carte menu, Adam presents classic British dishes with his signature flair rather than attempting any sort of reinvention. Not that complete overhaul is always needed, if these kinds of dishes can be presented well enough then success could be found.
We are recommended dishes that best reflected this direction. Initially we aren’t convinced. The starter of Brown’s Salad with grapefruit and blue cheese dressing was competent in its individual elements, especially with the candied walnuts which adorned it, but it doesn’t work completely as a dish, with the flavour of the cheese clashing inharmoniously with the grapefruit. The Dressed Crab Salad is certainly more cohesive. The texture beautifully combines the meatiness of the crab with crunchy pickled cucumber and the softness of a single lightly boiled quail’s egg on top. The dish is light and delicately balanced flavour-wise, although it leaves a very salty aftertaste that may deter some people. Probably best to go for a wine pairing with this one.
In fact, it’s worth having a wine pairing to go with any of the dishes on the menu. You’re in very safe hands trusting the warm and knowledgeable staff here as they guide you through their incredibly large list of central European wines. We are recommended a 2014 Chateau Boutisse Merlot, which is rich with spicy berry notes and perfectly compliments the Roasted Yorkshire Grouse. The grouse itself is exactly what you’d hope for in a dish such as this. The game is perfectly cooked and served with blackberries and bread sauce that adds a delightful salty-sweetness, which enhanced the flavour of the meat rather than detracting from it.
The Turbot also, cooked on the bone and served with parloude clams, is soft and flavourful, arriving covered in a buttery sauce that included garlic, lemon and chilli, and which doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of the fish, instead allowing the deep flavours of the turbot to shine through, as well as being enhanced by the wine pairing of a 2018 Chablis Premier Cru.
In terms of the desserts, the Crème Caramel is delicate and well-made but the addition of the raisins soaked in Sauterne wine is really not needed. They aren’t that boozy – a good thing as they would otherwise smother the flavour of the crème caramel – but they don’t really add anything to the dessert’s texture or flavour and we were left wondering why they were added in the first place.
The Hot Chocolate Pudding with malted milk ice cream, however, with its deep bitter dark chocolate flavour and soft melty centre, disappears very quickly and is a somewhat nostalgic delight, harking back to rich gooey British desserts of the past.
The stand-out of all the dishes however is the Strozzapreti Pasta with Langoustines and Girolle Mushrooms. Every part of this dish works superbly. The pasta, made freshly on site, is velvety smooth and sits in a delicious creamy sauce. There is a slightly smoky flavour from the mushrooms that perfectly complimented the soft langoustines. The only caveat here is that we wish there had been more langoustines. The flavour combination works so well that the three or four pieces we were given per dish don’t seem like enough. Despite this, it is easily the best dish we’ve had here.
Adam’s new menu is definitely one that plays to its surroundings as well as the clientele of the Mayfair area. It calls to an older, richer and more ‘old fashioned’ crowd who want to dine within their comfort zones. It’s almost as if they want their diners to go “Ooh, I remember that” and to reminisce nostalgically about restaurants of yester-year. It seems to be popular with customers as the restaurant has apparently increased its amount of covers by about a quarter since rebranding.
One of the main points of contention here however is the price. The Grouse costs £34, and the Turbot is £39. Even the relatively small pasta dish is priced at £35. At those figures, we expect to be blown away and we simply aren’t. There’s still a lot of good to be found here; these are dishes which are cooked well and served with a delicate touch in traditional fashion by warm and friendly staff. There is also a cheaper lunch set menu which offers three courses for £35 a person, so if you’re looking for a fancy lunch in a historic hotel then that’s probably your best option. However, if you’re wanting the full experience, then we’d only recommend Charlie’s if you’re a traditionalist with a large bank account.
Charlie’s at Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP
Words by Kieran Faulkner
Food photos by Alba Martin