RANDALL AT THE INTERCONTINENTAL: THEO GRATIA
So, while HP was a winging and a whining about the lack of decent cutlery I was faced with the finest steak knives in Christendom, but more of that later.
I too had planned a quiet night in but received a text from a good chum inviting me to join him for supper tonight.
I am afraid I cannot think of The Intercontinental without thinking of people with bladder afflictions. All a bit unfair as it has recently undergone a £50 million refit and is now very swish indeed
I arrived early and sat at the bar sipping on a glass of red until my chum arrived and dived headlong into a pretty decent Martini. I was disappointed at the dispiriting sight of cocktail glasses on the bar filled with ice in an attempt to chill them ( always a bad sign ) but the barman overheard us and explained that their freezer was broken. Teething problems I guess
Anyway, no matter. By that time my friend was, well, er pissed and so we thought we should decamp to the restaurant on which I suspect, many more millions have been spent
It was the quintessential hotel dining room. As my companion put it, you can't imagine anyone designing a restaurant from scratch to look like this. Still for all its cavernous space and 130 covers, it was welcoming enough as indeed was the service.
Theo Randall was the silent partner at The River Café and a great deal has been spent to lure him to the setting of an international hotel. Whatever the amount, I am pleased to say, it was well worth it. Every last cent as this was certainly one of the best meals I have had this year.
A traditional split of the Italian menu into Antipasti, Primi and Secondi made for some pretty hard decisions made even more tough by the arrival of a little amuse of roasted vegetables and bread. The bread was just fine and doused in some suitably lawny olive oil. But,the vegetables were spectacular and some onion squash ( a new one one me ) had been slow roasted to a buttery creaminess. So good in fact that we demanded more.
To begin, I started with Bagna Cauda, which being an ignorant sort, I had to have explained to me. A hot sauce made from garlic and anchovies and served over braised and roasted vegetables ( in this case carrots, jerusalem and globe artichokes and red peppers ) It is rare for my chum to covet a plate of vegetables but he took one bite of my dish and wanted to swap.
His dish was no slouch either, with perfectly cooked squid mixed with anchovies and cannelini beans.
We decided to split a plate of pasta and ordered a pappardelle with a slow cooked tomato and porcini sauce. It took a good twenty five minutes to arrive and that was after one prompting. When it did arrive, it proved to be the weakest part of the whole meal with excellent pasta spolied by a sauce that had been exposed to too much starchy water and had become thin.
Main courses more than made up for it, though and this is where the steak knives come in. Not any steak knives mind. This was a Global Steak knife. The, if you will,James Bond of knives. There can be no better.
It was put to good use too, carving through a meaty and beautifully flavoured French veal chop cooked to absolute perfection. Served with a mix of Swiss chard and braised fennel, it was as good a piece of meat as I have tried all year.
My friend's dish was, if possible, even better. A rich dense fish soup packed with monkfish, red mullet,clams and Dorset Blue lobster. Thickened with saffron potatoes and flavoured with tomato, it made my friend make the sort of "ooh" and "agh" noises that should normally be kept for the marital bed.
Puddings are normally to be dismissed as girly frippery. These, though were so much better than that. So much so that the waiter even brought us to the counter to introduce us to them personally. Worth making their acquaintance certainly. A Meyer lemon tart came on the lightest pastry imaginable and was rich with a creamy sharp filling. Better than that was my chocolate cake which had the lightest of fillings with a dense chewy crust.
They were in the second week of their softest of soft openings so offered 50% off the food which made it a bit of a steal for food of this gorgeousness. Under normal circumstances, I would imagine a meal for two here would be about £140 including, in our case, a £30 bottle of Brouilly which worked well with everything and service.
The front of house still needs a little bit of attention but is amiable and keen to please. But,make no mistake, this is a very serious attempt indeed at high end Italian food and I can see it giving Mr Locatelli all the trouble he can handle in the international dining stakes.
Well worth a visit.