Most hotels and their attendant restaurants tend to be places that all but throw open their doors and shout ‘come in, stranger! Kick off your shoes and make yourself at home! Champagne? Caviar? Nothing is too much for you.’ I have known at least one two Michelin-starred chef tell me, entirely candidly, that he has had guests come in, quite literally, remove their shoes and eschew his carefully put-together menu in favour of basic comforts like cheeseburgers, toasties and chips ‘and I’ll happily make it for them, if that’s what they want.’ The customer is king. Yet many of these places, by keeping such a policy in place, diminish the exclusivity that their exalted reputations were built upon. One expects the highest levels of quality and comfort, but at the expense of something less definable.
Of course, there are members’ clubs and private establishments, but these require forward planning, not least joining them. So it’s a rare place that still offers discretion and privacy in 2018. But these restaurants do exist, not least in Blakes, a short stroll from Gloucester Road, but a world away from the fast-food restaurants and hubbub of the Cromwell Road roundabouts. One walks down a street that exudes the confident certainty of old-school wealth, and before you know it, you have arrived at the famously Anouska Hempel-designed hotel, still, after all these years, the favourite London address of the fashion, film and photography set. If walls could talk…
Yet nowhere can rest upon its laurels, and it’s the recently relaunched restaurant and bar that is most of interest. I meet my friend Helena, found in her usual position of propping up the aforementioned bar, and we decide upon pre-prandial cocktails; a Chai Tea martini for her, and something unusual and potent involving gin, champagne and raspberry for me.
I glance around the dark, snug dining room. I half-recognise many of the diners, whether they’re enjoying assignations, reading the paper while having an early supper or simply soaking up the privilege which comes with good taste, deep pockets and that indefinable assurance which allows one – like any Arbuturian reader – to appreciate the very best things in life.
And so to dinner, and a prime spot by the window, to gaze out after the dark Kensington street and to ponder the delights before us. Helena is a habituée of this establishment and guides me through the menu like an aficionado. ‘Well we’re going to have lobster pasta, and it goes beautifully with the Chablis, so we’ll have that. And to start, the scallops are divine, so we’ll have those. Jamon and burrata are just perfect here. And then we can really get going.’ I took her advice, and can happily say that she was right in every regard; it’s not cheap, but worth every single penny.
I was less enamoured of the main course of the lamb shoulder in a kale and veal jus, which, although slow-cooked to perfection, was overwhelmed by the thick richness of its sauce, making it heavy going. It didn’t help that I initially ordered a glass of entirely the wrong red to go with it, a too-thin Barbera d’Alba, which tasted oddly synthetic.
Replaced with a gutsy and far more successful glass of Bordeaux, it set things up very nicely for a finale of lemon tart (almost as good as the benchmark at Theo Randall) and rum baba, the latter of which tasted like a very refined, and decidedly alcoholic, doughnut. A couple of tip-top espresso martinis sent us out into the night air replenished and replete.
Maintaining the standards and reputation of somewhere as exclusive as Blakes is not an easy task. It may not have been a perfect dinner, but it was, at its best, an extremely good one. And for its loyal clientele, ‘extremely good’ is just what they require. Long may it remain so.
Blakes restaurants at Blakes Hotel, 33 Roland Gardens, Kensington, London SW7 3PF. For more information, including details of offers and private events, visit www.blakeshotels.com.