Laurent At Hotel Café Royal
Good news at the Hotel Café Royal where the late, unlamented Ten Room makes way for an awe-inspiring Pierre Lissoni-designed lobby worthy of a luxury hotel, while a new 110-cover restaurant, Laurent at Café Royal, opens on the first floor. Consider it £5m well spent.
Behind The Scenes
In recent years, the hotel has hosted some real luminaries – Albert Adria, the Roca brothers – in its first floor restaurant. The new (permanent) incumbent is Laurent Tourondel. I had to look him up. It’s been so long – a decade, at least – since I last paid him heed, I’d forgotten where exactly the French-born chef fits into the global chef super league.
He’s pretty prolific in fact, best known for his big-in-the-noughties BLT brand (now splintered), with a sprawling global empire now comprising five places in New York, two each in Miami, Sag Harbour and Hong Kong, one in Puerto Rico and one in Charlotte, NC.
Laurent at Café Royal is his first European restaurant. The hotel belongs to The Set, a trio of European addresses including the Conservatorium in Amsterdam and Lutetia in Paris.
The PR tells me they want to go concept-free. By which I think they mean that there’s nothing too clever-clever going on here. It’s an update of a classic hotel grill room featuring big cuts of beef and whole fish, some concessions to 2018 (‘local wasabi’, kale Caesars, poké bowls etc) and a few throwbacks to post-SATC New York like American beef, wagyu nigiri and flash fusion sushi.
It’s not so very different from what they’re up to at Jean Georges at the Connaught, give or take a smoked mirror ceiling and backlit bar. An easy-going space where one can eat, drink and socialise without having to think too hard about it.
The food is unchallenging and commercial but comforting with little touches that create a point of difference: the pops of pickled mustard seed over seaweed-cured hamachi; the lick of salty soy in the brown butter sauce with the Dover sole and tempura lemon.
Hand cut chips look weird with their hoarfrost dusting of salt and white vinegar powder but taste nicely of salt ‘n’ vinegar Squares. Beef short rib, glossy with sticky black garlic, comes with good, cheery chimichurri.
To finish, post-prandial chocolate ‘bark’ stands out for all the wrong reasons: bendy, encrusted with palate-scuffing sea salt and abrasive roast coffee, it’s a Lush scrub in (semi) edible form.
Whether you know them as popovers or Yorkshire puddings, the comically oversized cheese gougères make a fun change from bread and butter.
Steaks and cocktails, New York-style.