Fit for a Duchess: The Dining Room at The Goring


“What do you mean you don’t talk about the food?” The enigmatic nature of restaurant criticism comes as something of a surprise to my mother as we sit down to lunch. “Well, not in an obvious way, Mum, not if we can help it…”

My lunch companion is a surprising choice, but not when you consider the venue. When it comes to The Dining Room at The Goring, there is only one person I could possibly ask, and who I would wish to accompany me. We love The Goring at the Arb, and while we will never profess to match their standards, we’d like to think we’re in tune with their sensibilities; sophisticated, exemplary, and with a dash of wit. How could I not invite my mother, my own flesh-and-blood Hyacinth Bucket.

“Oh, this IS nice,” she utters as we enter. For someone who has a habit of being quite vocal – discreet asides are often delivered at theatrical levels – I’m thankful the commentary is complementary. As we make our way from the lobby my wife’s words are echoing in my ear, “Stay calm.”

We’re seated at a corner table. It’s perfect for mother, she can survey her domain. The maitre d’, already amused by mum’s ebullience points out a few of the features, following the room’s extensive re-design. The new look is exquisite; the gilded detailing in the ceiling stucco, hand-painted Fromental wallpaper, the chandeliers that once divided opinion have been replaced, and the characteristic quirks are there, including a painting of the four generations of Gorings as The Beatles. And word has clearly got out as the room is at capacity.

With the new look come some new additions from the kitchen, too, including a stuffed hand-picked morel – incredibly troublesome to source – and dry-aged Aylesbury duck, but amid the new turns, notable classics remain, including the wellington, eggs Drumkilbo and their famous lobster omelette, each given a stamp by the new chef, Graham Squire, at the helm.

Our waiter adds further colour on the menu, pointing out the Drumkilbo being the late Queen Mother’s favourite dish. That’s my mother’s mind made up on the starter, then, quizzing the waiter about its components and holding him at court about the exorbitance of Burford Browns in Waitrose lately. “What are you doing?” she interjects at my notetaking. As champagne is poured with a flourish, some amuse bouches are placed; thimbles of beetroot meringue with goat’s cheese and yuzu domes. “That was lovely,” she enthuses, “write it down!”

It wasn’t long before she was getting into her stride. Bafflement at my taking photos of dishes gave way to active encouragement, “You should have taken a photo of that…” and a running commentary on the proceedings. The sourdough and marmite butter elicits “that’s nice, it’s subtle” and a grin as she takes another sip of her bubbles, “this is lovely champagne,” and glances about to see who’s watching, “I could get used to this…”. I fear I have created a monster.

As the starters arrive, she’s in full Masterchef mode, scrutinising each element. The lobster is lovely, fresh, though the egg feels like a garnish rather than the main event, and the caviar (her first time, remarkably) merely a condiment, “Hmm, it’s salty, but it works. Not sure what the fuss is about, though,” she mutters, scraping the bowl. We have to confirm the addition of a crab shell on the side is, in fact, ours, and it transpires it’s the chef’s new spin on the dish; a crab crumpet, crab mousse and crispy seaweed. Soon it’s me exuding the enthusiasm, particularly with my own starter of the sought-after morel, heightened with crispy chicken skin in the truffle cream filling.

We’re gripped as the Dover sole is filleted with exceptional deftness at the table, and proves as exceptional as it is substantial. Again, mother is confident in her choice, “this globe artichoke complements the fish perfectly,” she opines. And while I eye a neighbour’s Rhug estate lamb with envy, my lobster omelette (surely, something everyone must try at least once in their life) is not as substantial as I’d feared, and complemented by a delightful lobster Caesar.

All of these dishes, as you’d expect from a sommelier who knows a thing or two, are elevated by the wines. At our behest, he mixes it up, flipping the white and red; Chablis with the morel, Burgundy with the omelette. But a favourite has to be the Bolney estate with the Dover sole. If the Dining Room champions the best of British, it’s including wine in that line-up, to boot.

As the ‘substantial’ sole is made light work of by this slight septuagenarian, she glances over at my plate, “Have you had enough to eat?” Evidently, mothers can’t help being mothers. And, of course, we have room for dessert.

It’s time for the trolley again with the rum baba FLAMBÉ, the caps in the menu entirely justified as it explodes in the pan with a ‘Wow!’ from surrounding tables as a ball of amber fire balloons to the ceiling. The violet mousse, like a dollop of air on a strawberry sorbet, is delightful, but the baba steals it; not the heavy sponge you’d expect (“nothing like my cakes,” Mum jokes), and given its Caribbean credentials with finely diced mango and pineapple. Needles to say, there’s not a scrap remaining by the time the table is crumbed down and fresh mint tea is served.

An unusual addition to the menu is an inscription, signing off how committed the team are. They are, indeed, passionate about food; the maitre d’ is immediately warm, disarming; the waiter shared his enthusiasm for the dishes, the som left us in his capable hands – and it was exquisite. After a photo opportunity surrounded by a diadem of hydrangeas about the entrance – to gloat to the Joneses back in Dorset – I wave mater off at Victoria station; “So, Mum, would you recommend it?”

“Oh, absolutely,” she kisses me on the cheek, “it’s The Goring, darling.” And she strides off to her train, every bit the diminutive duchess she is.

The Dining Room at The Goring, 15 Beeston Place, London SW1W 0JW. For more information, including details of pre-theatre dining, and for bookings, please visit Mothers especially welcome.