"It's not much but it's ours"

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Up on the hill
They've got time to burn

A few months ago a friend of a friend had alerted me to the fact that British cooking stalwart Mark Hix was at The Grill restaurant located in Brown’s Hotel in swanky nabe and haunt of the hedge funders, Mayfair. It seemed like a good bet but with one thing and another I wasn’t able to go. I remedied that situation recently and also discovered that the relaunch will see the restaurant renamed (to The Albermarle Grill) and that Mr Hix will shortly be opening a meat and oyster joint in Smithfield. Exciting times indeed.

I’d never been to the restaurant at Brown’s before. It’s all very nice in a “this is very nice, looks expensive, I wonder who’s paying for it…oh I am” sort of way: wood panelling, widely-spaced tables, napery galore. The only jarring note being some sort of modern art work. I don’t mind modern art but sitting in this sort of room at my time of life brings out the Sir Bufton Tufton in me.

The menu is a more evolved version of the one you’ll find at The Rivington Grill – the other restaurant which Mark Hix owned although I’m not sure what the connection is now (maybe someone could elucidate) – oysters, fish, steaks, pies…you get the idea. All very Mark Hix. As no dish has more than two or three ingredients so the quality and preparation needs to be right up there.

Unfortunately, the Native Oysters were not great. They had been opened but the top shells were replaced. As they were a bit tricky to open I suspect they may have been opened earlier. Certainly, the briny juices within were in short supply. The Oyster meat itself hadn’t been separated from the lower shell which is also a bit odd and a bit rich given that I was paying more than £3 a pop. Five of the oysters were ok, the sixth was a bit suspicious – I only got the slight warning whiff just before the bugger went in my mouth. A couple of hours later I was ruing my lack of vigilance.

The best dish of the meal was similar to one I had tried at the Rivington Grill a few years ago. Baby Squid came with decent Black Pudding (it might have been bacon in the original) with a nicely cooked Duck Egg in the middle. I could have done with a bit more of the pudding but the combination worked really well.

I wanted to have a steak but was irritated by the fact that the there wasn’t enough information on the menu regarding the provenance of the meat or how long it had been aged. For instance “Aberdeenshire Fillet Steak, on the Bone” isn’t telling you a lot and for £29.75 I’d like to know the cow’s name and what it wanted for breakfast.

Thus began a rather surreal dialogue with one member of staff who seemed determined to keep mum.

Me: Where do you get your beef from ?
Brown’s: Aberdeenshire (points to the “From The Grill” section on the menu)
Me: Er…ok…how big are the steaks ?
Brown’s: Which one ?
Me: The Rib for Two.
Brown’s: You can’t have that – it’s for two.
Me (tetchily): I can if I want.
Brown’s: Ok – but it’s very big (holds up hands palms facing each other about a foot apart).
Me: Sorry, I meant how heavy is it. About a kilo ?
Brown’s: Yes, a kilo.
Me: What about the Glen Fyne Rib Steak. How, big is it ?
Brown’s: This big (holds up hands palms facing each other about six inches apart).
Me: Has the beef been hung ?
Brown’s: Which one ? We have several different steaks (points to the “From The Grill” section on the menu)
Me: The Rib Steak ?
Brown’s: I will find out.
Me: Thanks

Methinks it would make life so much simpler if they’d just put “500g, Aged for 28 days” on the menu. Maybe the people who normally eat in Brown’s couldn’t give a monkey’s about provenance, taste or any of that foodie nonsense. As it turned out the steak was fine. It was butchered a bit messily but the cooking and taste were pretty good. Chips were ok too. A side salad of watercress and shallots was a rip-off.

A Parkin for dessert was the wrong shape and tasted a bit clarty but then I wouldn’t expect a restaurant in Mayfair to get this right, I was just curious.

Although it may not seem like it I enjoyed Brown’s more than I thought I would. It’s a nice comfortable place, the cooking’s ok and the service, once we’d got the steak thing out of our respective systems, was on the ball.

Of course London now has a number of places where, if you can do without the fripperies, you can get similar food, for a lot less money. But maybe after the relaunch, if they sort a few things out and you’ve got a rich relative or a newspaper picking up the tab it wouldn’t be such a chore to have a meal here. I’d avoid the oysters though.

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