When you think of a grill restaurant in a five star London hotel, you probably imagine a traditional, wood panelled dining room adorned with tartan cushions, tasselled lampshades and gilt-framed English oil paintings, patronised by portly pinstripe suited gentleman conversing with indisputable authority just as they might at their club. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that The Connaught Grill, reopened in 2020 after being reimagined by renowned interior designer John Heah has turned all that on its head.
Situated so discreetly on the ground floor of the hotel that you only know it’s there if you’re a regular, The Connaught Grill’s intimate dining room with just 46 covers is nonetheless extremely inviting; warm lighting, exceptional woodwork by Pennsylvanian company George Nakashima Woodworkers and an open kitchen with rotisserie and grill that is the beating heart of the restaurant and not only a welcome touch of theatricality but a window into the technique and precision that goes into creating this fine dining experience.
From Steak Diane and Dover sole to a Sunday roast beef served from the trolley, Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s menu, presided over by Executive Chef Ramiro Lafuente Martinez, may read like something from the 1970s but it’s a unembarrassed revival of the classic British and continental dishes most of us crave when dining at a luxury grill with a few Vongerichten’s twists. Fear not, he never meddles with old recipes gratuitously.
Holder of 2 Michelin stars at his flagship restaurant in New York, besides operating 32 restaurants worldwide including outposts in Mexico, China, Japan and Brazil, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has certainly made his mark since arriving at one of London’s most legendary hotels, The Connaught. Opening the lux brasserie Jean-Georges at The Connaught in 2017 with an eclectic all-day menu featuring a pricey fontina cheese and black truffle pizza and classic British dishes using his signature South-east Asian flavours, he might not have his name over the door this time but Vongerichten’s influence is no less apparent at the new look Connaught Grill which has benefited immensely from his knack for giving lovers of tradition what they want whilst introducing a new clientele to the joys of the classics.
The kind of food you’d want for your last meal, The Connaught Grill highlights the finest British produce with a modern flair and elegance which complements the contemporary décor and revives the once outmoded hotel grill restaurant as if it was an entirely new concept. The epitome of food heaven without a side dish of culinary parsimony or celebrity chef worship, nowadays more and more of us are steering clear of lengthy tasting menus the whole table have to agree to in favour of ordering exactly what we want. The à la carte might not come cheap but it’s a blow-out certain to deliver with bells on. If you don’t mind a limited choice, the best kept food secret in Mayfair has to be The Connaught Grill’s set lunch menu (Wednesday to Saturday) priced at £45 for three courses.
I’m a lover of classic and indulgent cuisine at the best of times, but when the colder months arrive there’s nothing I crave more than a menu packed with comforting favourites. The menu, opening with a ‘Raw’ section featuring oysters, caviar and beef tartare, is a who’s who of beloved dishes, with husband and I both drawn to the starter of Scotch Egg with Lardo di Calonnata, smoked paprika and truffle mayonnaise, a luxurious take on this humble British bar snack that will doubtless ruin my enjoyment for any other example.
My main of Norfolk Black Leg chicken was tantalisingly cripsy-skinned and golden, served with onion textures and a glossy jus, while the epic 500g Brixham Dover sole which had ‘caught’ Mr L’s eye was cooked to milky-fleshed perfection and taken off the bone at the table by a member of the proficient waiting staff as gracefully as though he were dressing the King of England. The side dishes were particularly memorable, especially the crispy potato rösti with chives and crème fraîche adding a mellow sourness and finished with an extraordinarily generous helping of finely grated black truffle. I only wish the entire nation could experience the caramelised brussels sprouts with smoked bacon, Williams pear and raisin vinegar this Christmas Day, guaranteed to cure the most determined sprouts haters.
Dessert is a line-up of retro British and French favourites such as sticky toffee pudding and Crêpes Suzette for two flambéed table side with Grand Marnier, granting diners a memorable finale to a flawless culinary experience. A chocolate and coffee tart with dark chocolate cremeux, almond praline and coffee ice cream proved a full bodied, caffeine-rich and masculine treat for husband, while my ultra feminine and unashamedly pink raspberry soufflé was a swoon-worthy delight of expert height and lightness, boasting a lip-smacking intensity that was countered with a silky crème fraîche ice cream. As fine a soufflé as you’ll find in any Michelin-starred restaurant on either side of the English Channel, everything served at The Connaught Grill is prepared with serious aplomb.
The service is slick, friendly and efficient without being overly formal nor, thank goodness, do the waiters lean over you when presenting your chosen dishes and painstakingly detail each and every ingredient on your plate and whether it’s been flamed over hot coals, baked in hay, slow cooked for three days in a clay pot, smoked over recycled Christmas trees or goodness knows what else. I have a veritable loathing for waiters pointing at my food, nor do I wish to listen to a lecture before diving in just because there’s a trend for describing so very little on menus nowadays. Just like the design of the restaurant, this pared back style of service shouts modernity and confidence, an inherent understanding of their clientele which comes as standard from a hotel founded almost two hundred years ago. Just like the revolving doors wafting guests inside, who are spoiled with three brilliant restaurants to suit their mood, The Connaught doesn’t believe in standing still.
Aside from the original plasterwork ceilings, the new Connaught Grill is a world away from the first incarnation opened in 1955. There is something blissfully soothing about the tactile, raw beauty of the American black walnut wooden plank-style tables and chairs, while if you’re lucky enough to be seated in one of the booths with leather seats, you’ll get an even greater sense of the cocoon-like atmosphere they intended to evoke.
Long renowned for their culinary excellence, The Connaught belongs to Maybourne which also includes Claridge’s and The Berkeley in London along with The Maybourne Beverley Hills and The Maybourne Riviera. The Connaught Grill is sister to the hotel’s other two acclaimed restaurants, Jean-George at The Connaught and Hélène Darroze at The Connaught which went from 2 to 3 Michelin stars in 2021, one of only five London restaurants of the same rank.
With under fifty seats it feels like no less a privilege to be dining at The Connaught Grill which hasn’t so much as had a makeover but a metamorphosis. When you want to sample the most sublime dishes ever created, using some of the most fabulous ingredients the UK has to offer, in a setting that’s every inch as perfect as the food then saunter to Mayfair’s best kept secret. Your table, soon to be your ‘usual’ table, is waiting.
The Connaught Grill, The Connaught, 16 Carlos Place, London W1K 2AL. Open from Wednesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, with lunch served on Sundays. For more information and reservations please visit the website.