It’s been a little over a month since I joined my club, and I’m starting to feel like part of the furniture – certainly, I have my favourite spot in the Chelsea room (and it’s fair to say I bristle a little if I see someone else in it) – and when I have occasion to do a little work I’m beginning to spot the regulars, and the staff I’m getting to know by name. It’s a lovely feeling. I’m starting to feel like I belong.
That sense of involvement is extending to the occasions, too, and as we enter December, the decorations are going up, the tree is looking resplendent. And, as the club prepares for the festivities, there are two people I’m keen to get to know.
Members rarely meet those who are, perhaps, the sung heroes in the hospitality scene. These are team who deliver joy with the strike of silver on China, the sense of anticipation when you arrive for a meal, the unfurling of that napkin and the first glance of a menu. There’s the front-of-house team, sure, that make the experience a smooth and pleasant one, but the pleasure comes from those you don’t often get to meet, those often with their name above the door; the chefs.
With the onset of the festive season, I noticed the first few events starting to happen about the club; larger tables in the Garden Room, rooms closed for private functions, some definitely dressier people than I’d seen previously, and I couldn’t help but spot the front-of-house team ferrying what looked like some terrific plates from the kitchen; I was savouring those sights and aromas and I was keen to learn more.
A tentative enquiry at the front desk yielded the brochure for the ‘Festive Celebrations’ and I noticed some options for private dining, at various degrees of from the Classic, to Deluxe, to the Grand. What I saw, too, were no ordinary dishes making up a Christmas menu. Teriyaki glazed crispy duck confit with Jerusalem artichoke risotto, Brussels sprout leaves and pickled cranberries; hazelnut macaroon with mulled wine poached pear and oranges, And that was just in the dining menus, I didn’t even get to the bowl food for private parties. This was Christmas – with a twist.
I was quizzing the front desk too much, I was proving irksome. “Would you like to talk to Bernard?” Sophie asked. I don’t wish to put him out, I replied. It wasn’t a problem, he was between service.
The driving force in the kitchen is the dynamic duo of executive chef Bernhard Mayer, formerly of The Savoy and Four Seasons Park Lane, and his Sancho Panza, head chef Maryono. As Bernard comes out to meet me over a cup of tea in the bar (it’s 4pm), I ask about that twist and the inspiration behind it.
“We know our guests love the Christmas classics…” he tells me, “the twist is seen with the hints of our heritage that we add. I hail from Germany and Maryono from Java, so it’s full of surprises with European and Asian flavour combinations that create delicious dishes.”
I’m curious as to how they work together, particularly when it comes to their creativity and their dynamic in the kitchen. “We have been working together for such a long time now, we’ve developed this almost telepathic rhythm,” Bernard says, “and we often come up with similar ideas so it’s easy to bounce off each other.” So, can he speak for Maryono, and what his strengths are? He pays his colleague the highest compliment.
“He’s the ultimate creative,” Bernard says, with a sense of admiration, “he just thinks with no boundaries. My strength is in putting those ideas in the context of guest experience, operations and how it will be delivered.” So you make for a good team. “Absolutely. It’s a pleasure.”
About that menu, and there being so much to choose from, I ask for a recommendation from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Bernard’s eyes steer to the ceiling in reflection. “The tuna tartare,” he says, defiantly, “it’s fresh and light yet full of flavour. It goes perfectly with mustard and baby mache, which is very popular in Germany…” He takes a sip from his water and his face softens into a wistful reminiscence, “As a child, at home we would grow these vegetables during winter under the snow and pick them fresh from the garden. It’s got a lovely nutty flavour, and it takes me back to happy childhood memories…”
“I get a lot of great comments for the wiener schnitzel, too” he adds, “as it reminds people of home. It’s one of my favourite dishes on the menu.” Getting a bit sentimental for Weihnachten there, Bernard.
Strange at it may seem, I’ve not yet taken the opportunity to dine here yet – I suppose I was waiting for the right occasion – but having chatted to Bernard I’ve since planned a small celebratory dinner with some old friends, and I ask him what might make the club stand out.
“The element we pride ourselves on most is the personalisation of every single event,” he says. I brace myself for the sales patter (this is me you’re talking to, Bernard), but there’s a sincerity, even a modesty, I can’t fault, “Christmas is a time for celebration, and it’s not just the menus we’ve created, but our events team look at every last detail to make your occasion unforgettable.”
And, with that, Bernard excuses himself. Duty calls. “Forgive me,” he says, shaking my hand, “I have to get back and prep for service this evening…but try one of the cocktails, they’re fantastic.”
The Garden Room and Sloane Place are currently taking reservations, for Christmas celebrations, including for Christmas Day itself. For menus, including the festive brochure, and for bookings, please visit www.sloaneclub.co.uk. Bookings for corporate members include a complimentary arrival drink.