Humming along nicely? Not quite.
An old work chum of mine was so ensconced in his suburbanite routine that he was only vaguely that Mayfair existed. When we had to walk through the area to get to a work-related Christmas party elsewhere, he was therefore taken aback at the gilded cushiness of the businesses lining Mayfair’s prim and proper streets.
It’s therefore no exaggeration to say that what happens in Mayfair and its restaurants will barely impact the consciousness of most people, especially if you’re not blessed with a trust fund or a day job that involves pillaging rainforests or turning puppies into fur coats. The exception is if you’re a globetrotting restaurant botherer with a corpulent Avios account. If so, then you’re no doubt breathlessly giddy with excitement at the arrival of Daniel Humm at Claridges’ with his new restaurant Davies and Brook. Humm, and his New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park, seems to permanently haunt international ‘best restaurant’ lists – uroboros-like affairs where tourist boards, gastropalaces and double-chinned ‘judges’ generate and consume attention like a culinary perpetual motion machine or a bib-wearing Human Centipede.
Claridges’, undoubtedly one of London’s most tastefully opulent hotels, has seemingly been in search of a restaurant to top those international ‘best restaurant’ lists ever since the blonde sweary one left for even whiter pastures. Fera never really scaled the heady heights of transnational gastro-backslapping. I found that restaurant to be an unimpressively one-dimensional affair that struggled to justify its high prices to anyone who didn’t enjoy the taste of placebos.
Davies and Brook doesn’t radically alter the look of Claridges’ Art Deco-ish dining room, apart from removing Fera’s Gondorian tree which dominated the middle of the room. It somehow feels warmer though, no doubt helped along by the efficient yet welcoming front of house. It’s a soothing place to while away a few hours, especially if you’ve ever fantasized about being part of a Noel Coward production.
The tasting menu kicked off with an amuse bouche of thinly sliced scallop served chilled with equally anorexic slices of apple. Both the wafer thin slicing and the deliberately chilled temperature did little for the scallop’s texture and taste, letting the sweetness of the apple straddle all over the proceedings. Somewhat oddly, the plate was accompanied by a tumbler of broth – possibly based on beef. Although warming when taken as a chaser, it felt out of place, much like this amuse bouche – awkward, unbalanced and foreboding.
Bread turned out to be a sort of croissant – flaky and buttery, but more bread like in its savouriness. It was hardly in need of butter, especially as the puck provided was surprisingly shrug-inducing despite its unidentifiably treacle-like crust.
Caviar served with naan bread sounds like an epic pairing, the greatest team-up in history since Batman and Robin or Kylie and Jason. The actual result was more like Stallone and De Niro in Cop Land – fleetingly illusory and unsatisfying. Each element was decent enough in their own right from the delicately briney caviar, tinged with a dill-like flavour and served in a hollowed out hemisphere of squash. The container leant the caviar a surprisingly complimentary vegetal sweetness. But none of this was really complimented by the feathery softness of the naan or its onion-derived sweetness. The crème fraiche was another puzzling addition, neither here nor there, but at least the pickles added a touch of smoke and sharpness.
Bass ceviche topped with a cucumber ‘salad’ looked unsettlingly like a Wall’s Twister. The fish had been heavily minced though, shredding any taste of texture it may once have had, but at least the ‘salad’ and shrimp-based oil was present to impart a delicately herby sweetness that lingered on the palate gently. If only the rest of this dish had been more like the shrimp oil.
Although somewhat short, the lobster tail was muscular and forceful. Cooked with what appeared to be the most fleeting and minimum amount of heat the kitchen could get away with, the lobster was almost sashimi-like with its firm, springy and bouncy mouthfeel. The bisque was an odd affair, resembling more of a reduction but with an oddly medicinal tinge that I couldn’t quite place. It still added a touch of moreishness to the lobster, but the vegetally sweet squash on the side was one of your five a day and little more.
A sphere of celeriac was not much bigger than a ping pong ball, but had been slowly cooked in a football-sized pig’s bladder – a startling, decidedly non-kosher arrangement fleeting brought to my table for inspection before being taken away for more braising. It all seems utterly bizarre, especially given the diminutive size of the celeriac. The sphere was undeniably tender though, perfectly and evenly so throughout, with a starchy sweet sharpness. The latter was bolstered by a pair of sauces tinged with earthy truffle slices and bits – a sticky reduction and a sweet cream, both ticklishly fragrant. Titillating and satisfying – and the first unequivocal success of the entire meal.
A long but narrow slice of duck breast was disappointingly fat-free, but it was evenly cooked throughout. The cumin and grain-studded skin took on a crisp, gently bitter crunch, complimenting the gentle earthy succulence of the meat. The beetroot puck felt tacked on and I’m still sore about the lack of fat, but this was a reasonably adept main nonetheless.
The kitchen attempted to be playful with the cheese course, although the results felt more like the template for a Waitrose party food range. Brioche-ish mini buns, but more straightforwardly loaf-like than most brioche, came stuffed with a mixture of camembert and cheddar. Although something of a muddle, the cheesy stuffing did retain a fair bit of the mature lactic tang you’d expect from both of these cheeses. The plum chutney and sorrel cream were neither here nor there. Although far from inedible, these cheese-themed canapes left me cold.
Milk ice cream was so smooth and wispy, it was more soft serve than gelato. Its clean aftertaste was appreciated, but I couldn’t help but wish for a more substantial, more refreshing ice cream with more mouthfeel. Its chilly temperature was a necessary antidote to the oddly medicinal tang of the honey-flavoured candy shell. The brittle-like biscuit at the bottom felt wrong in the mouth, while the flecks of honeycomb (or possibly ‘pollen’) were far too fleeting. This half-formed dessert has nothing on the incomparable eponymous honeycomb ice cream at Wild Honey St James.
The lone petit fours was a leaf-shaped After Eight. Which is a shame as I’m not a fan of After Eights.
Five years and two very different head chefs separates Davies and Brook from the opening of its immediate predecessor at Claridge’s, Fera, and yet it feels as if very little has changed. Aside from a handful of intermittent bright spots, the food at Davies and Brook feels precisely calculated to be as timidly inoffensive as possible. Such apologetically ineffectual dishes are hardly worthy of the time and high sums needed to consume them. If this is really what best restaurant lists are after, then it’s high time we paid even less attention to them than we already do.
As warm as the service was and as timelessly stylish as its Art Deco-ish surroundings are, Davies and Brook was an ultimately dull, sclerotic and lifeless experience. That’s oddly appropriate for a restaurant with a name so easily forgotten, spoonerised and mistaken for that of an actuary or solicitor’s office. A large sum of money can buy you many things. But, unsurprisingly, it can’t always buy you a consistently cracking good meal.
Name: Davies and Brook at Claridge’s
Address: Claridge’s, Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR
Phone: 020 7629 8860
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon-14.30 and 17.30-22.30. Closed Sunday.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks and coffee: £185.