Archive for July, 2010

The Capital Hotel, London Review. (July 2010)

Posted on: July 27th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Continuity and change are clearly in evidence at the Capital Hotel, London. This 50 roomed hotel, holder of 5 AA Townhouse Red Stars, and part of the Small, Luxury Hotels of the World group, is close to its 40th Anniversary. Opened in 1971, it has become synonymous with the highest standards in the hotel and restaurant world, winning a host of awards in its distinguished short history. Two of the most recent were the Cesar Award 2008 for “London Hotel of the Year” by the Good Hotel Guide, and the “Most excellent Hotel Restaurant Award” in 2008 by Conde Nast Johansen. The dining room gained two Michelin stars under its chef Eric Chavot from 2001 to 2009. The Capital’s aim is now to preserve the benefits of the past whilst adapting to the changing consumer demands in this highly competitive field.

Located in Basil Street, behind the busy shopping heart of Knightsbridge – it is literally a stone’s throw from Harrods – the Capital retains its quintessentially English character in an oasis of peace and tranquility. It has become, as its owner David Levin envisaged, a “grand hotel in miniature,” offering a level of comfort and service far in excess of hotels of a similar size. Preserving traditional features, from the liveried doorman with top hat, the personal greeting at reception, to the classic design and furnishing of the rooms, it attracts guests from all over the world, the majority being from England itself, America and Australia.

With 80% repeat business and an occupancy rate of over 82%, The Capital is conscious of the need to maintain the loyalty of its regulars.

At the same time, given the average age of 58-65 of its guests, the advantages of attracting a younger age group would bring additional benefits. While David Levin, as Chairman of the Group, and his appointed General Managers have held the vision and strategy for the property, David’s daughter Kate Levin has taken closer order in the operation.

Kate’s beaming smile, her youthful enthusiasm, her sense of style and attention to detail are all backed up sound experience in the leisure and event management industry before joining the family business. She is a strong believer in face to face communication, so easily lost in larger establishments. That “small is beautiful” is an axiom which has reaped rich rewards.

Although there are function rooms for business meetings – the Eaton and Cadogan suites – the feel of the hotel is never corporate and impersonal. Indeed, personal attention to the guests’ needs is paramount, being evident at every stage of their visit.

For instance, Concierge Clive Smith, a familiar face in reception, uses his 25 years of knowledge and experience to provide excellent individual service.

Staying at the Capital is a joy. The small reception – lit with a real fire in winter – and tiny lift belie the generous size of the rooms. These were individually designed by Nina Campbell assisted by David Linley, with classical, often floral, English décor in soft pastel shades and sumptuous fabrics. The super king sized Savoir beds, equipped with handmade spring base and mattress, are supremely comfortable. Top quality pillows and blankets, and Egyptian cotton sheets add to the luxurious experience. Elegant, antique style mahogany furnishings and original paintings from the family collection add to the traditional feel of the rooms. The marbled bathroom was well supplied with and a host of designer toiletries, and, more importantly, supersoft towels and bathrobes.

Even men’s slippers, always overlooked elsewhere and for which I will be eternally grateful, were provided. The junior suite in which I stayed also had a cosy sitting room, complete with television, two-seater settee and deep armchair. Clearly, no expense is spared to make one’s stay truly memorable. Whilst refurbishment is gradually taking place, there can be little doubt that the current superior standard of rooms is a magnet for new and returning guests.

Afternoon tea, has become an institution at The Capital.

It is taken in the small Sitting Room which can double as a private dining room. Served by helpful and knowledgeable staff, a variety of leaf teas is offered alongside dainty triangular sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and excellent, freshly made miniature pastries: the chocolate éclair with crisp choux pastry and proper crème patisierre and the apricot and almond tart were perfect specimens of their kind.

A generous slice of traditional fruitcake was moist and gently spiced. Amazingly, the overall experience was rich but light, leaving enough room for dinner.

Indeed, one might choose to explore all the amenities of Knightsbridge that are on the doorstep of The Capital; a hotel which well deserves its place, in every sense, in the Small Luxury Hotels of The World.

With a warmth of touch and a unique character, it is easy to see why the property enjoys so much success with returning guests and I, for one, delighted to recommend its charms. (Review took place during July 2010, conducted by Daniel Darwood.)

Brasserie Joël, Restaurant Review July 2010.

Posted on: July 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Brasserie Joel


2010 is the year of culinary comebacks. Three French chefs who gained Michelin stars in the 1980s and1990s have returned to the stoves in their new London restaurants: Brunot Loubet (Bistrot Bruno at the Zetter Hotel), Pierre Koffman (Koffman’s at the Berkeley) and Joël Autunes (Brasserie Joël at the Park Plaza, Westminster Bridge.) All three have earned the respect of the profession by shunning the media limelight in favour of actually being in their kitchens; and all three are producing highly accomplished cooking worthy of serious attention

Of the three, Brasserie Joël, located on the first floor of the recently opened Park Plaza, has the newest accommodation. In keeping with the rest of the ultra modern hotel design, the dining room is spacious, smart and sophisticated. The lacquered black walls and high ceiling produce a cavernous effect, illuminated by a red light through a glass wall of what appears to be the wine cellar. A curtain of silver thread on one side, a dark screen opposite – blocking out any exterior light – divide the room. Spotlights and lamps brighten the slate effect tables – each one decorated with a small herb pot – whilst high and low backed banquettes provide comfortable seating. However, the spacing of the tables proved to be a little too close.

For those who remember the Michelin starred Les Saveurs, the intimate basement restaurant where Joël Antunes was a chef-partner between 1991 and 1996, the scale of his new 170 cover restaurant might come as a surprise. However, we must bear in mind that his experience in America, during his twelve year absence, included holding executive chef positions with the Atlanta Ritz Carlton Dining Room and the Oak Room at The Plaza in New York, in addition to his eponymous Joël Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.

Classically trained, Joël’s cooking is confident and precise, the result of over thirty years in the profession. His experience in the kitchens of Bocuse and Troisgros in France, and Raymond Blanc in England – to name only three – as well as top restaurants in Tokyo and Bangkok has made him an internationally renowned chef.

At Brasserie Joël, however, the main aim is not to produce haute cuisine worthy of Michelin stars – although these accolades would be welcome – but rather well balanced bistro style dishes executed to perfection. There are few surprises, no attempts at over elaboration and no molecular gastronomy. This will appeal to those who welcome a return to a simpler, more rustic, style. Bistro classics such as fish soup, pork terrine, Sea Bass en papillote and Tournedos Rossini on the menu satisfy this need.

Economies of scale in a large hotel allow Joël to engage the best suppliers of the finest and freshest of seasonal produce. This is reflected in the regularly changing menu which includes specials of the day.

On the night we visited there was one unwelcome surprise: a £2.50 cover charge for bread, water and amuse-bouche. Such practices have, fortunately, died out, except in some small, independently owned restaurants, so it was even more of a shock to see it implemented a newly opened, large scale establishment.

A starter of Gazpacho with tomato sorbet exploited the stronger, sweeter, less acidic taste of the San Marzano tomatoes used to make it. Here is an essentially simple dish whose impact on the palate was sensational – a burst of summer in all its lively explosion of flavour, texture and temperature. The sorbet was a master class in its delicate smoothness

A superb roast saddle of rabbit, moist and tender through exact timing and resting, was enhanced by a herb farce which complemented the gentle gaminess of the rabbit. Artichoke Barigoule provided an appropriate seasonal accompaniment, whilst rocket salad added a peppery boost. In its flavour combination, execution and presentation, this could well become a signature dish.

Hand dived scallops, seared to produce a caramelized crust, once again demonstrated the precision of Joel’s cooking. The ubiquitous pea puree accompaniment was avoided in favour of a fresh pea garnish, which had the benefit of a textural contrast – the nuttiness of the pea worked well against the velvety richness of the scallop. As a bonus, the Gnocchi Parisienne, rarely seen on restaurant menus given their labour intensive preparation, revealed a feather light touch and good balance its moderate use of parmesan

Joël’s success in the USA has given him the confidence to offer simple steak main courses. But these were no ordinary steaks: the use of a wood fire grill added the gentle barbeque smokiness to the prime New York steak. This was cooked to a perfect medium rare, as requested, and was garnished with bone marrow – utterly decadent in its melting richness –

sweet roasted garlic, artichokes and a rich, intense bordelaise sauce.

Coffee granite, with its flavour packed tiny ice crystals, served its purpose as a pre dessert in cleansing the palate and exciting the taste buds.

Raspberry mille feuille, crisp, and light, with properly made crème patisierre, revealed the strengths of the pastry section. Peach Melba is another classic that should not be missed.

The wine list is extensive, with Old World and New World varieties, a dozen of which can be drunk from £4 a small glass of house wine,£16 a bottle,

Efficient, unobtrusive service was overseen by the amiable Moria Makiese, whose time at Tom Aikens and Gordon Ramsay will serve him in good stead for the pressures of service.

Whilst the location of Brasserie Joël – the wrong side of Westminster Bridge – and the size and décor of the restaurant might have their detractors, there can be no doubt as to the excellence of the cooking. The predominance of hotel guests eating there is understandable in its early weeks of opening. However, there is no reason why it cannot become a destination restaurant, Michelin stars or not. The care and attention lavished on the food, and the outstanding quality of the finished product, are testaments to the strong impact this newcomer to the London restaurant scene has already made.

The Capital Dining Room, Restaurant Review, July 2010

Posted on: July 10th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Providing a standard of food to match that of the rooms at The Capital Hotel would be no small undertaking, but David Levin’s extensive experience in the hospitality industry continues to provide a solid base. The Royal Oak at Yattenden, his first hotel in 1965, could be seen as the precursor of today’s gastropub. Since 1971, the kitchens of the Capital have nurtured a pantheon of notable chefs: Richard Shepherd at its opening, Brian Turner, Paul Merrett, Garry Rhodes, Philip Britten and Eric Chavot.

The first Michelin Guide for the UK in 1974 awarded a coveted star to the Capital – one of only four hotel restaurants to achieve this distinction. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Eric Chavot added another star (which he kept till his departure in 2009), achieving the highest gastronomic distinction to date. This helped to make The Capital one of the major destination restaurants in London.

The last year has seen the appointment of Jérôme Ponchelle as Head Chef, and new Restaurant Manager, Donato Colasanto. Together they have revised the approach to dining, with the aim of attracting regular hotel guests as well as non residents.

In the kitchen the emphasis will be less on the rich, innovative and complex dishes for which it was noted. Instead, a simpler but nonetheless refined menu will be offered. However, there has been no compromise on the sourcing of the finest quality ingredients which will be allowed to speak for themselves on the plate,

With twenty years experience, including working for the legendary Michel Bourdin at the Connaught and more recently at Wilton’s, Jérôme’s cuisine combines French classical cooking with English traditional dishes in a seasonally changing menu. In particular, his own specialities of game and seafood dishes, such as lobster, crab and truffle omelette and braised fillet of wild Scottish turbot with a champagne sauce have impressed more adventurous eaters, whilst braised oxtail has pleased those who prefer tried and tested comfort food.

Donato Colasanto is an engaging, high spirited manager, whose warm welcome quickly puts diners at their ease. As a Master of the Culinary Arts, he has worked at the Connaught in its pre Ramsay days, and later at the Lanesborough. In the Capital dining room, he oversees the dining room with a meticulous eye, ensuring every detail is perfect. A great advocate of gueridon service, he welcomes the revival of the carvery trolley, available three lunch times a week, as adding spectacle to restaurant experience. Whilst remaining utterly professional, service in the dining room will be less strictly formal, with a more relaxed dress code.

The 34 cover dining room itself has light paneling with modern chic design by Nina Campbell. Soft blue curtains and grey carpet help to provide a calming atmosphere. Two magnificent space-ship like chandeliers, table lamps and spotlights illuminate well spaced tables lining either side of the long room. Luxuriously upholstered red spoon backed chairs provide highly agreeable seating.

The recently introduced policy regarding wine purchase is worthy of note. Mark ups are only two and half times the wholesale price, compared with the industry policy of up to four times. Bottles over £100 only incur a discreet corkage charge. For wine connoisseurs this is a boon, and partly explains why the whole stock of Chateau Petrus, marked down from £3,600 to £1,350, was bought up in November 2009. For those of more modest means, the first rate house wines come from David Levin’s state of the art winery in the Loire Valley.

fine-dining-guide visited the Capital Dining Room to sample a tasting menu, left to the discretion of the restaurant manager and chef. Assistant sommelier Justyna Wisniewska provided a matching fleet of wines.

A warm lobster mousse, shaped as a boudin and enveloped with shellfish foam, was intensely flavoured, rich but light. As an amuse bouche, it successfully fulfilled its purpose in exciting the palate.

Fresh marinated salmon was vibrantly fresh in taste, having benefitted from three days marination in dill mustard, brown sugar and lemon juice.

(Wine: Le S, Ampelidae, VDP de la Vienne, Loire Valley, France, 2005)

The next dish was veritable tour de force. Soft, freshly made ravioli encased a filling a leeks, foie gras and truffle. The heady fragrance of the truffle, the melting richness of the foie gras and the gentle earthiness of the leek combined well to produce a taste explosion of utter decadence. This labour intensive dish, brilliant in conception and highly skilled in execution, revealed the culinary heights of which the kitchen is capable

(Wine: Castelnau du suduiraut, Sauternes, France, 2002)

Seared Scallop was another impressive dish. The caramelized crust and delicate, sweet flesh contrasted in taste and texture with the braised lentils and curry sauce. Again, this dish was a triumph of distinct, well balanced flavours, the sauce having a lightness and mildness which did not overwhelm the main ingredient.

(Wine: Domaine Faury, Tradition, Coudrieu, Rhone Valley, 2007)

The main course of dover sole meuniere was perfectly timed and rested to enable Donato to demonstrate his masterly skills in filleting a whole fish. The beautifully moist, fully flavoured and firm textured fillets, enhanced by a foaming beurre noisette and lemon, demonstrated the virtues of a high quality ingredient cooked simply. Turned new potatoes and steamed spinach balanced the richness of the fish, whilst the whole course was brilliantly paired with a crisp, award winning Sauvignon Blanc from the owner’s French vineyard.

(Wine: Levin, Sauvignon Blanc, VDP du jardin de la France, Loire Valley, 2006)

Finally a light dish of poached rhubarb summer berries and summer berries was a delicate balance of astringency and sweetness. Iced yoghurt and nibbed almond biscuit added contrasting tastes, textures and temperatures to this accomplished dessert. More adventurous composite options on the menu included Muscavado meringue with exotic fruits and mango and tumeric sorbet or roast pineapple with star anise, crème brulee and hibiscus sorbet.

(Wine: NV Jacquart, Brut Mosaique, Rose, Reims.)

Good coffee and petit fours and a glass of grappa completed a memorable meal

Overall, the quality of ingredients, the skill in execution and the balance of each dish were as good as any of the meals I have enjoyed at the Capital. Whilst the degree of invention, the eclectic combinations and artistic presentation may not be as great as his predecessor, Jérôme’s cooking nevertheless is worthy of a wider audience. After sixth months, it is still early days. After his first full year, there will be the potential for acclaim from the guides, that will certainly bring him the recognition he deserves.

July 2010: Fine Dining Guide July Newsletter

Posted on: July 4th, 2010 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood is delighted to announce the continued success of a free iTunes podcast series. You can find any episode by typing “fine dining uk” in the main iTunes search box. The latest episode: Brand Management in the Internet Age analyses the challenges faced by marketeers in such a dynamic and fluid environment.

The site also had the pleasure of interviewing Jori White to discuss the rise of her eponymous Lifestyle PR organisation.

newsletter interviewees

The site has conducted four interviews since the last newsletter, spanning two chefs, a sommelier and a wine estate owner.

Returning to London and welcomed with open arms, Bruno Loubet has re-established himself quickly as a leading light in London at The Zetter Hotel. The eponymous restaurant Bistrot Bruno is also reviewed

Recently recognised for his contribution with a stake in the business, Antonin Bonnet – like a true artist – continues to produce Michelin Two Star standard cooking at The Greenhouse. Antonin speaks openly  about his journey through the culinary world.

Gary Jordan is a South African wine maker with a passion! His vineyards in the Stellenbosch are world-renowned and recognized for their excellence with numerous prestigious awards. His London eatery is High Timber, beautifully set on the north bank of the Thames.

Laura Ward is a young sommelier bursting with channelled enthusiasm. Vivat Bacchus Farringdon has gone from strength to strength as both a food and wine destination. The site interviews Laura  and reviews the restaurant

Extending the site’s interest in Hotel/Resorts, Daniel Darwood found time to review The Chewton Glen Hotel including a review of the Marryat restaurant.

Twitter/Facebook: The Twitter page continues to grow and now approaches 1900 followers ( The top 20 or so news tweets can also be found on fine-dining-guide’s News page.

fine-dining-guide is pleased to announce a new Facebook page, which carries photo galleries of restaurant visits and updates of new articles.

General Website Updates: The summer months in a tough recession are never the happiest for top end fine dining restaurants and the website has pretty much held its own during these times with around 50,000 page views from 18,000 unique visitors since the last newsletter.

The Michelin Section continues to be updated with the complete list of Michelin Three Star Restaurants in Europe for 2010.

The Restaurant Picture Gallery  continues to be popular with readers and has been updated with visits to: Brasserie Joel, Gauthier Soho, Waterside Inn (25 Years Michelin Three Star celebration dinner), The Square, L’Ortolan, (The New) Petrus, The Greenhouse, The Marryat at Chewton Glen and Bistrot Bruno.

In terms of restaurant reviews, The Two Views section now carries new pieces regarding The Milroy at Les Ambassaduers  and Michelin Starred Quilon Restaurant.

Opinion/News: There is certainly an interesting trend toward more informal – all-things-to-all-people – dining. There is a growing band of top end chefs opening “brasserie” style restaurants that appear to offer a mixture of haute cuisine fine dining and more typical bistrot/brasserie food.

Naturally, this is accompanied by more relaxed prices, too – or at least significantly lower prices – than a more formal “high service” environment. Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud, Bruno Loubet, Joel Antunes and Pierre Koffman (just to mention a few who are all formerly or currently Michelin starred) are treading this mid-market path.

You might wonder whether such a trend is one borne out of neccessity due to the recession or whether we are witnessing a cultural shift in British eating preferences. This question was raised by fine dining guide over five years ago with regard to the growth of the Gastropub phenomena. The concept may equally be applied to this new crop of “brasserie/bistro(t)” addresses. See: Gastropubs: Cultural Shift or Question of Economics

In any event, one might argue that any trend that opens up restaurant eating to a wider audience has to be welcomed!

Until next time, Happy Eating!