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.