St Ermin’s has long been a favourite hotel although I have, in truth, never actually stayed there. One is impressed by its charm before one even reaches the front door. The red brick, stonework and planting all contrive to create a vision from a more elegant era.
The hotel foyer is stunning with a sweeping staircase, ornamental plasterwork and glinting crystal. These are all authentic trappings of a space that could be a backdrop for a period drama. Add a few dapper chaps in frock coats and ladies in silks with bustles and the transformation would be complete.
But dinner at the adjoining Caxton Grill is a contemporary affair. One might expect overt formality but this restaurant balances classic service with an ambiance that is both calming and gently refined. There were not the starchy white table cloths that I had expected but the dark wood tables fitted the décor admirably. The soft furnishings provided texture, the room was bathed in evening light and the buzz of hushed conversation created a pleasant environment for an adult dinner.
The table linen was kept to crisp white serviettes but the food was fully Michelin-Star quality. Yes, admittedly, that’s just a matter of personal taste but these dishes by Head Chef Adam Handling each made me smile with pleasure and glow with realised expectations. This young man has flair and culinary daring but he doesn’t push his guests outside comfort zones. His cooking methods are inspired and his ingredient combinations are often whimsical, but they work.
We were tempted by the Nibbles menu and they would indeed have made delightful snacks with perhaps a chilled glass of fizz. The Crispy Pig and Marrow is a mini triumph and will be a winner with any carnivore who might have had fears that this high-end eatery would offer only things in jars that smoke and kipper-flavoured foam. This was proper meat in cubes.
Beetroot and More Beetroot sounded intriguing. It was a visual stunner and must have used a good number of very cheffy techniques to accomplish. Vibrant colour and delicate presentation made this savoury beautiful enough for the top tier of an afternoon-tea cake stand.
Duck with rabbit, cherries and pistachio, and Crab with avocado, watermelon and sweetcorn were our starters and they were both delicious and attractively arranged. They were appropriate for the season and whetted the appetite for the mains. Caxton Grill doesn’t offer the longest menu in town but it doesn’t need to. There are enough dishes here to please even the most sophisticated palates.
My guest is a man of discerning tastes but a man for all that and he couldn’t pass up on Ribeye steak. Although a simple plate it does rely on the quality of the showcased steak and a chef with a light hand at the grill. The substantial cut of meat was pronounced first class.
Cauliflower with coconut, sultanas, curry and almond was my choice. I am not a vegetarian but this non-meat option got my attention. How was the unprepossessing cauli going to be transformed from something of a culinary frog to an epicurean prince? It was a revelation, and I feel no shame in admitting that I will likely steal the idea for my own dinner party fare. Chef Adam Handling uses skill and imagination and did, in this case, wave the magic wand. Boiled, grilled and pureed cauli presented different flavour and texture with every bite. Granted, it might not convert a carnivore but at least that stubborn diner can be assured that he is missing out on a vegetable-based treat. Caxton Grill is a passionate follower of the ‘Field to Fork’ movement so you know that vegetable will not have travelled all the way from South America.
I am not a great one for sweets and so passed up the dessert menu. I can tell my dear reader that the evening could have ended in resentment: the Apricot, ginger, pannacotta and rhubarb with black pepper was my guest’s dessert, and was faultless. Perhaps that is something of an exaggeration: I would say that the dish might have been improved by the omission of the apricot. The other components worked so well together that the apricot was just a distraction. But this is a must-try pud. Luckily the waiter had the presence of mind to offer me a second spoon – otherwise there could have been a nasty scene.
Head Chef Adam Handling has a close relationship with his suppliers and a deep respect for ingredients. He contrives to amaze with his finesse while using the most humble of seasonal produce. Caxton Grill is well worth a visit and even in a city that spoils me with choice I can promise I will return.
Mon-Sun 11:30am – 11:00pm
Mon-Fri 12.00pm – 2.30pm
Mon-Sun 5.30pm – 10.30pm
2 Caxton Street
Tel: 0800 652 1498
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018