The Milroy Restaurant, which serves the world-renowned Les Ambassadeurs club, has opened its doors to non members for weekday lunches. This offers the public a unique opportunity to experience the extravagance, luxury and comfort for which such establishments have become famous.
Housed at No 5 Hamilton Place, this handsome 19th century building – remodeled in the fin-de-siècle Louis XV style by Leopold de Rothschild (one of its previous owners) – stands in bold contrast to the characterless multi storey hotels which dominate this south western tip of Mayfair.
The location has a rich and glittering history, from being the site of one of Henry VIII’s hunting lodges, later the London home of the Conyngham and Rothschild dynasties, to the current ownership by the Sampoerna family.
The Milroy itself is on the first floor, reached by ascending the magnificent curved grand staircase, hand carved in warm, rich wood by Rinaldo Barbetti. This, along with the equally impressive library downstairs, took fourteen years to complete, comprising two outstanding examples of the Florentine master wood carver’s work.
Gentleman’s club meets French salon is the dominant impression as one enters the dining room. High decorated Georgian ceilings lit by Murano glass chandeliers, and large gilt mirrors, give the restaurant a spacious, glamorous feel. Grandeur is added by an internal marble colonnade leading to a flowered terrace. A restrained colour scheme features white, cream and brown. Comfort is afforded by the upholstered dining armchairs and banquettes in coffee and lime velvet. Of the well spaced tables, the best are those commanding excellent views of Hyde Park.
For private dining for a maximum of eight, guests can enjoy the Leopold Room, lavishly decorated with hand painted De Gournay scenic paper and shielded by extravagant damask curtains.
Head chef Simon Foster has a distinguished CV that includes spells at La Tante Claire and Claridges. His menu of tasteful, refined dishes combines elements of traditional and modern cooking. Scottish oaked smoked salmon with lemon and dill cream or sliced cured ham with melon appear along side seared yellow fin tuna with basil and cauliflower puree in the range of starters.
For main courses, classic deep fried battered haddock with peas and tartare sauce vies with Mediterranean vegetable open tart with herb dressing. Desserts shun the old school stodge in favour of modern classics like warm chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream or crème brulee with poached rhubarb and shortbread.
The starters chosen on this visit exemplified the utter freshness of ingredients and simplicity of presentation that characterize most dishes. The white meat of Portland king crab had a delicate sweetness enlivened by lemon mayonnaise with accompaniments of avocado and mango. The Milroy steak tartare – asked for mildy spiced – was expertly created from its multiple ingredients at the table. The accompanying Poilane toast provided the right degree of crunch to offset with the soft raw meat.
For mains there were more conservative dishes. A perfectly timed Dover sole was deftly filleted at the table, the meuniere sauce of butter and lemon being poured over once the fish was plated to retain the heat. This was another fine demonstration of les arts de la tables, almost extinct amongst fine dining establishments. The other main course, a huge Barnsley chop was cooked pink as requested and served with meltingly textured roast kidneys. These were balanced by an excellent bubble and squeak hash and lifted by a rich, deeply flavoured rosemary jus.
Be warned: the portions for starters and mains can be very generous, leaving little room for dessert for the unwary. The lightest of the sweet courses was the elderflower and lime jelly with mixed berries and crème fraiche. For those with heartier appetites, a selection of French and English cheeses with homemade chutney was also available Coffee and petit fours can be taken in the downstairs library / bar, which gave the visitor ample time to marvel at the beautiful wooden carving.
Ludovic Bargibant headed a highly professional front of house team. The service, which might seem rather too brisk for those who wish for a more leisurely experience, was nevertheless happy to adapt upon request and proved highly efficient and knowledgeable. Andres Lucas, the sommelier, was happy to advise, on a list which ranged widely across Old and New Worlds, with over 200 bins with 10 available by the glass. The Milroy Cocktail of champagne and red berries, served as an ideal aperitif – light and refreshing.
Lunch at the Milroy was a real treat, confirming if not exceeding the reputation Les Ambassadeurs has had for beautiful and lavish surroundings. It will also destroy the myth that such establishments serve indifferent, boarding school type food. Opening to the public for lunch is a bold move which, hopefully, will be followed by other clubs.