I take great delight in people watching. Not the weirdo, slightly odd, bordering-on-stalker watching, but the gentle art of catching glimpses of life as they fleet past and wonder just where the people have come from, and where they are going. Where we are going is the Island Grill, to which Lancaster Gate tube pops you right out at; how very convenient.
Sitting in the window of the restaurant, within the Lancaster London, you have the near perfect combination of Hyde Park, busy road and tube exit supplying you with an endless torrent of commuters, tourists and adventurers. Some everyday, some quite exceptional and others definitely unusual, I’d like to think my wife and I fall somewhere between unusual and exceptional – although the niggling feeling is we’re neither.
We were, however, served by one of the exceptional bunch. A young adventurer from Wales who had recently moved to the capital for a little excitement. A beaming smile and a gentle manner was complimented by a good knowledge of the menu and the ability to chat without being intrusive. Ah, the art of good service. So often lost in this country.
Now, call us gluttonous, but we shared three starters. A celeriac velouté, the seared tuna salad and the prawn Cesar salad. The prawns were grilled beautifully, keeping their texture and flavour with the added bonus of a bit of fire. The salad could have done with a little less dressing, but the celeriac velouté made up for that with its fresh tang and subtle, creamy combination – hold that thought, more on this shortly. The tuna also came very well prepared, with roasted cherry tomatoes and pickled ginger popping in contrast to the oily fish.
A black truffle eclair. Oh yes, a delicious, rich, very well-balanced black truffle eclair to be precise. This was served with the Celeriac velouté and was a perfect counterpoint. I suspect if there had been three of them, myself and my better half would have had a fight right there and then for the odd one out. I would have won. I fight dirty.
We both had steak for our main course, which in retrospect was a mild error. There was a red snapper special on the menu that day and I wonder now if I should have chosen that. Ah, well, no regrets, eh? Except that ‘thing’ in Vegas. I’ll have to go back for it. For the snapper, I mean. Not that, ahem, thing in Vegas.
As you’d expect from a grill, and as the prawns and tuna had already suggested, both the sirloin and fillet were cooked well, as requested and easy to eat. Chips help even out the salad, a Béarnaise sauce great for dipping into. It’s no wonder steak is the nation’s favourite. Isn’t it?
The Lancaster Hotel sets itself aside from many hotels by having an in-house, or rather rooftop, apiary. The bees have the range of Hyde Park to feed and in doing so make a London honey unique to the hotel. This is served with the honey panna cotta, which we enjoyed while debating what the bees must see on their travels. If only they could talk.
The food was good, but it was the small, unexpected touches that really stood out – in this case the black truffle eclair. If the grill continues to venture down this road and look for the culinary path less travelled we will be dining companions for many years to come.
For more information, visit www.islandrestaurant.co.uk.