What: With restaurants in New York, Hong Kong, and the Caribbean, internationally renowned chef, Laurent Tourondel has chosen London, the best foodie city in the world, (we’re allowed to be bias) as the home for his first European restaurant. Taking over the first floor of the Hotel Café Royal, the restaurant replaces the slightly soulless restaurant that sat on the ground floor which, in turn, now takes on the role as an impressive lobby.
New? Yes, the restaurant has only just launched, we however snuck in and managed to get a preview. I say snuck in, I mean not literally that would have been all sorts of awkward.
The Setting: If Hotel Café Royal was a player in Monopoly they’d be laughing, because when it comes to location they’ve hit the jackpot sitting in the middle of Soho, Mayfair and St James, although I hate to think what the rent must be like. Known for its notorious events and hosting celebrities and royalty for nights of debauchery in its former guise of Café Royal, Hotel Café Royal has remained a Londoner’s favourite, despite its tourist destination, you’re not going to find yourself sat amongst a horde of selfie sticks.
The Look: The restaurant has taken over the first floor of the hotel and is spread out between an intimate room where a lit-up bar takes centre stage and the mezzanine level – the idea being that with the lobby down below, new guests walk into the life of the hotel and are intrigued by what’s going on upstairs… hint, good food. Designed by Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni, the restaurant is sleek and refined with an open kitchen, grill and sushi bar. If you’re sat in the gallery you’ll look out at the double height Murano glass chandelier made by renowned Italian glassmaker Vistosi.
On the Menu: The menu is centred around the grill with many of the dishes being cooked on the parilla grill, a traditional iron grill barbecue originally from Argentina, so there’s plenty of meat and fish on the menu. Those looking for something lighter will find sushi and sashimi. Vegetarians are somewhat limited, but there are a handful of dishes including an excellent dish of white asparagus with cured egg yolk, fried shallots and Coleman’s mustard dressing. Expect to find the likes of King salmon sashimi; grilled octopus; Cornish crab; Somerset double lamb chop and Wagyu beef short ribs.
What We Ate: I am, if nothing else, a champion eater of fresh bread, not that I should be proud of it (although I am a little), a waiter once told my friend and I that he would not bring us another basket of bread because four was enough and he didn’t want us to not eat later. That said I think I have found something to replace my love of bread, the American popover that they serve at Laurent, made with cheddar and gouda it’s rather like a Yorkshire pudding on steroids, a crisp shell giving way to a light, airy, cheese centre. Served warm with butter, they go straight up there with Adam Handling’s cheese doughnuts as one of my favourite foods.
About to embark on a tour of five Italian cities in five days, I thought I would get going with the parmesan and prosciutto custard. Admittedly cheesy custard sounds less than appealing, but in reality, it is somewhere between a quiche (without the pastry) and a savoury crème brûlée. The parmesan is strong, the prosciutto is salty and the truffle vinaigrette cuts through it perfectly. Fried shallots and Coleman’s mustard gave spears of steamed white asparagus a peppery kick.
Next up were big and I mean big, meaty king prawn, they needed no accompaniment apart from a drizzle of fragrant tomato and basil sauce. The USA Snake River ribeye was succulent, tender and full of flavour, it was remarkably good. Normally one to have waiters tell me I’ve ordered too much, see above about the bread, the waiter here insisted we accompanied our garlicky spinach with the salt and vinegar chips. I’m glad he insisted because they were excellent; crunchy and golden and worryingly moreish.
To finish there was only one pudding for me, the milk chocolate peanut butter croquant with banana ice cream – I offered to share but “forgot” my boyfriend doesn’t like peanut butter, not quite a deal breaker. Which is just as well really because I wouldn’t want to share, it was utterly decadent with the banana ice cream providing a little relief from the intense chocolate.
What We Drank: There’s a strong cocktail list with the likes of the Fizzy Breakfast (look pass the name) made from marmalade, Earl Grey, lemon, Campari and Champagne; the Cherry Kiss made from sugar, cherry liqueur, chocolate bitters and Champagne and the Corpse Reviver #3 a mix of cognac, fernet branca and white crème de menthe. Keeping it simple we stuck with sparkling wine whilst we ate but finished with an Old Cuban, a take on the Old Fashioned and Mojito – a mix of lime, sugar, mint, rum and Champagne. A return visit is definitely needed where I make the most of the cocktails.
Go With: Given that it isn’t far from the centre of London, (the exact centre is said to be found on a pavement in Victoria Embankment), Laurent is ideal for meeting friends, even those that have chosen to live on the other side of the river, I know the north/south river divide is a point of contention for many.
Final Word: I’m a big fan of Laurent. Arrving, knowing that I had to be up at 4am to catch a flight I started off the evening with my mind elsewhere but by the end I had completely forgotten I had to be up in five hours, I was more concerned with the popovers and chocolate croquant. In addition to the new restaurant there will soon be Ziggy’s bar, a playful homage to David Bowie, one of Café Royal’s most renowned past patrons. Fact fans, it was at the Piccadilly hotel that David Bowie held Ziggy Stardust’s retirement party back in the 1970s.
Where: Hotel Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, Piccadilly, W1B 4DY, www.laurentatcaferoyal.com