Tuesday, 28th May 2019 – The Luggage Room, London; Hide, London
Having had a relatively quite few months to start 2019 it’s all kicking off now with theatres and restaurants and films and literature and food festivals to attend, and parties coming at us from all sides. In addition, there seem to be lots of foodie events all vying for our attention. This, a Hardens Invites event, was too good to resist, with dinner at the relatively new – and very swanky – Hide on offer. This was to celebrate the restaurant being 1 year old, and thus in addition to the usual crowd who had responded to the invitation by buying a couple of tickets, there were some of the regulars including the delightful couple we found ourselves seated next to, Dame Rosalyn Higgins (Rosalyn C. Higgins, Baroness Higgins, GBE, QC, former President of the International Court of Justice) and her husband, Terrence Higgins (Terence Langley Higgins, Baron Higgins, KBE, DL, PC, a former Conservative MP, Commonwealth Games silver medalist winner for and Olympian). I’m not one to be impressed by titles, and I’m not exactly a Conservative politically (quite the opposite in fact), but they were terrific company and utterly fascinating people.
Anyway, to return to the subject of dinner. The tickets were £150 each and included a drinks reception, and a five course tasting menu (six if you included the canapés) and matching wines (which they were very generous with). Given that a normal night would see you pay £115 for 7 courses, and that before you’d so much as touched a glass of wine, it seemed like a not unreasonable deal to me.
Lynne and I had arranged to meet up in advance across town in The Luggage Room, the very pleasant cocktail bar hidden away in a corner of the Marriott Hotel on Grosvenor Square, where we were served an interesting selection of drinks by what seemed to be some of London’s most charming bar staff. I arrived first and so whiled away the time reading, scrolling through my Twitter feed, and drinking The Bramble, made so the list tells me, to a recipe from 1984, invented by Dick Bradsell, and containing Fords gin, lime, and blackberry. I can only tolerate gin in cocktails, not on its own, and this was a fine if light concoction. It also contained a vast single ice cube, which is apparently a thing too!
By the time Lynne arrived I was ready for a second drink and so decided I would try the rather luridly named Midsummer’s Wet Dream, a mixture of Absolut Elyx vodka, Swedish Punsch, peach, lingonberry, malic acid and bitters. It was a pale pink and tasted beautifully of the lingonberries, which was what I was hoping for!
Lynne chose a Penicillin (Chivas 12 year whisky, Laphroaig Quarter Cask whisky, ginger, honey, lemon) which was aptly named and slightly medicinal in taste – mind you, given it seems to mostly contain the ingredients you’d put in a hot toddy if you had a bad cold, this is nor especially surprising. The recipe comes from Sam Ross’s time at the now-defunct New York branch of Milk & Honey, more specifically in 2005.
For her second drink she went for a rather more conventional Snow White (Green Spot whiskey, Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne, apple) on the reasoning that she would be best staying with whisky and not changing spirits mid-session. She was probably right!
I settled for a glass of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV, to keep it simple.
Once we were ready to head to the restaurant, the concierge very efficiently found us a taxi and we were soon inside the building which I must have passed numerous times while running, but which I’ve never noticed before, so discreet it is. We were invited in and shown up the fabulous staircase, which feels very organic, very hobitty almost. I didn’t get a photo – there were too many people moving around – so I nabbed this one from their website instead.
We were greeted at the top of the stairs by waiting staff with trays of Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2014, from Kent, a very popular wine at these sort of events, and apparently served at the 2012 London Olympics opening party and at Buckingham Palace for visiting heads of state. It’s around £12-16 a glass on many wine lists, and seems to be hard to find outside restaurant wine lists and Liz II’s gaff, or at £59 a bottle from the makers! It’s also very good, biscuity in the same way the best Champagnes are, with a massive citrus hit and a hint of apple. With it we were served canapés, most specifically an excellent tempura softshell crab with a marigold and green peppercorn dressing. We made our way to our table in one of the private dining rooms at the back of the room to eat these because napkins or no they were not something you could attempt standing up with a glass in your other hand!
Of the warm Spenwood cheese gougères, I can say nothing, because we never did see any. I think this was a bit of a shame, and suggested that the staff are not especially au fait with trying to serve a roomful of people who will keep milling around, rather than having a captive audience seated at the tables. They were sweetly apologetic about it, but we never did get the gougères!
We stayed with the Blanc de Blancs for the first “course”, the staff enthusiastically topping up our glasses, something that doesn’t always happen in the grander and more expensive restaurants.
Baskets of fresh bread arrived (bread and broth), along with some whipped butter, and everyone tucked in happily, first tackling the refreshing strawberry gazpacho as per the instructions of our waiter.
We were also served “vegetables” which included lightly pickled radish, beetroot and yellow courgettes, fresh peas and some lettuce to dip into a camomile dressing. They recommended we get as messy as we wanted!
Finally we had “flesh & bone” with home-cured meats wrapped around a licorice root (saddleback pork with oregano & fennel seed) or a goose feather (goose with sage & fenugreek). It was a substantial start, as well as very good. The pescetarian next to me was losing out though, as he wasn’t given any sort of substitute for the flesh and bone.
Our next course was a delicately cooked portion of alliums, served in a chilled pine infusion that looked good when it first hit the table.
It looked even better when the infusion was added. The flavours were mild and sweet and the petals of the onions still had a good crunch to them. A further upside was that it was a small dish after the starters, and the bread I had left mopped up the sauce perfectly. With it we drank a 2015 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée M Grand Cru, a gorgeous example of an Alsace Riesling, with that rich fruitiness you often get, but in a fresher, lighter style than some. It can be bought at £39.80 a bottle, which strikes me as not unreasonable, given the quality of the wine.
The next course saw a return (in a small way) to the yellow courgettes, this time thinly sliced and covered with a perfectly-executed piece of steamed turbot, served sitting on a pool of crushed nasturtium broth. There were a couple of peppery nasturtium leaves to add a punch to the dish, and a nasturtium flower or two as well and it was nicely balanced without in any way scaring the horses. It was intelligent, classical use of ingredients, and my only regret was that there wasn’t a bigger piece of fish. You don’t mess with turbot, and they hadn’t, keeping it simple and letting it speak for itself.
Wine-wise we were now in Spain, with a lighter Encina del Ingles Blanco La Melonera 2016, which felt a little thin after the Riesling. It was pleasant enough but I wasn’t that excited about it compared to the previous wine.
The next dish up was the last of the savoury courses, a pinkly barbequed piece of roast Herdwick lamb, with charred runner beans and a savoury pine nut praline. The meat was too pink for our companions, but Lynne and I both loved it. The runner beans, not so much, but then I’m not a fan of things that are charred in the main (or as I call them, burnt). The nut praline was a stroke of genius though, delicious, savoury, with a softness that coated the lamb perfectly. As for the lamb, as I say, we both loved it. It was just the right shade of pink, still tender but not bloody.
The wine with it was a Portuguese wine, and as such a relatively light wine in colour terms, though it packed quite a hefty wallop of flavour. It was a Quinta do Crasti Vinhas Velhas 2015, Douro, Portugal and I would be more than happy to drink it regularly. We’re off to Porto in a month’s time and I may have to try and buy from them while we’re there, especially as a day trip to the vineyard looks like a possibility.
And so to dessert, which ironically was the heaviest dish of the meal. It was a mousse of avocado, pistachio and white chocolate, and it was very dense and sticky, with an almost bread-like texture in places. I liked it very much, though I struggled to finish it.
The final wine was a triumph, a Tokaj Classic Late Harvest 2009, Tokaji, Hungary, which was described elsewhere as “botrytis agogo”, for a wine that is made in the same style as a Sauternes, rather than in the way Tokaji wines are usually made. With an extended aging process as well, the result was superb!
That just left coffee, tea and petit fours! We both declined the caffeinated drinks (I don’t touch coffee after lunch, not if I want to sleep anyway) but the petit fours were mighty fine, with marshmallows on sticks, and tiny Portuguese custard tarts. They were very cute, and delicious, with great pastry. They were also the final straw, as it were, and neither of us could have eaten another thing.
We legged it to the station, struggling to stay away during the journey and made it home around 1 in the morning, full of food and having had a great evening.