Another day, another brasserie. This time at the Rosewood Hotel, its own British brasserie called Holborn Dining Room.
Brasserie is a French word, a French concept like ‘restaurant’. It has an all-day menu. It is quite relaxed. It tends to have an expansive dining space. And serves alcohol, beer originally, since the word brasserie translates to ‘brewery’ in French.
Brasseries used to be attached to breweries, particularly in the Alsace. Vast industrial spaces where workers drank copiously and ate unreservedly. These loud, large, accommodating venues, often high ceilinged.
They are still large, still noisy, but now more luxurious and elaborate. More for business people, old rich people, the bourgeois. You will see oysters, tartare, and choucroute, both gobbled viciously and daintily picked at. All rather expensively.
Much of this holds true for the Holborn Dining Room. The imposing grandeur of the Rosewood façade. A place few can afford, but many admire as they walk past. The Edwardian Neo-Classical pillars and arches, its ornate and clean restoration. Its own brasserie, equally impressive, located just by the entrance, through dark wood revolving doors.
I hear the lounge jazz in the background as I entered. Slow and easy. The appropriate brasserie rhythm that paces the chatter of people tucking in.
A stylish dining room is the Holborn Dining Room. Shimmering pillars, a lot of iron and brass, a gentle amber tint to the lighting, a mixture of bright dressing room bulbs, old fashioned lamps, red plush banquettes, and the pervading warmth of elegant hotel hospitality.
The menu is quintessentially British, with a conspicuous French flourish. You’ve got your thermidors and meat en croûte, your tartares and tart tatins. You also have steak sandwiches, scotch eggs, Cornish crab and sticky toffee puddings.
You also have pies. I visited for the pies. You cannot forget the pies.
It is a charming menu, a homage to British cuisine with a concentrated and meticulous focus. This is not apathetic pub grub, the stodge that is insultingly mistaken for the national cuisine. This is British cooking at its finest. Tidied up, served with panache and sophistication.
I was first given some complimentary bread from the Coombeshed farms. Bread lathered generously with hand churned Abernethy butter, from Dromara County Down in Northern Ireland. A delicious batch of ashen sourdough.
The scotch egg came halved and placed in a thick tangy mayonnaise. It had a shimmering, still runny egg yolk. The egg was encapsulated in dense meat, crisply breaded. It had a katsu-like crunch. There is nothing particularly special about the dish. Only that it is executed with a zealous attention to detail, and has flavours that would warm a patriotic British soul. Or anyone’s for that matter.
Duck and pork in puff pastry next. An appetiser en croûte. A slice the shape of white bread toast besides a dollop of plum jelly. I was not taken by the cold, slightly damp pastry but I did enjoy the duck and pork amalgamation with the lip-smacking plum jam. Tart and sweet jelly with cool, pastry-encased meat.
I was told at the start of the meal that if I wanted pie, it took thirty minutes to cook. But with my attention drawn to all that was going on around me and the slow delicacy with which I ate, the pie seemed to arrive at the perfect time.
I smelt it first as the waiter came in from behind me. The buttery, oven-hot emanations of fat and flour and water, the meaty contents within. Mine was a hand raised pork pie filled with bacon, pork shoulder, fennel seed and sage. Chips and summer greens were ordered as well.
The crust was extraordinary. Crunchy, well-seasoned perfection. When cut, it revealed its steaming core. The gravy, smooth like syrup, drapes sumptuously over the pie when poured. Unfortunately, my pork was dry, delicious but dry, and after a few mouthfuls more gravy was needed, required, not simply preferred.
More disappointing were the chips, which are a little too al dente for my liking. Gratefully I found refuge in the simple, fresh summer greens. Herbaceous with thyme and a drizzle of nutty rapeseed oil.
My favourite part of the meal was the dessert. A princely slice of chocolate tart and a globe of crumble sprinkled milk ice cream. Not only was the ganache faultlessly smooth and robust, but it also possessed a touch of endearing bitterness, a feature of quality dark chocolate. Its top was brulleed, gossamer thin and crisp, and the bottom a beautiful shortcrust.
Though more expensive than most of the meals I tend to have, the Holborn Dining Room offers up a dining event of astounding British cookery. It should come as no wonder, for when you notice the striking gaze of Chef Franklin on the contact card, a man surrounded by ornate and intricate pies and crusts and rustic dining ware, he embodies a seriousness with which I imagine he leads his kitchen, one that ultimately manifests itself in the dishes he sends through.
If you want to show people what good British food tastes like, do not take them to your favourite local pub. Take them to the Rosewood, pay that little bit extra, and I endeavour to think they shall be more than appropriately impressed.
Location: 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN, UK