Hotel restaurants have always had a bad rap, but London’s restaurant scene has come a long way, and with it’s grown-up sophistication have come high profile partnerships between big-name chefs and 5-star properties. Gordon Ramsay was with Claridge’s for a good run, Michelin-starred Helene Darroze at The Connaught, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester…you get the point. So, we’ve moved well past the stigma and negative associations to heartily embracing powerful pairings. Among them, is Theo Randall at the Intercontinental Hyde Park. Randall has been at the Intercon, as it’s colloquially known, on Park Lane since 2007. He brought the highest pedigree – not Le Cordon Blue, but rather, The River Café, credited as the first restaurant in London, if not the UK, to introduce seasonal cooking more than 25 years ago. Headed by a Brit and an American, Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers nurtured a team of chefs who made names for themselves embracing high quality ingredients served simply with a rustic Italian menu. One dish in particular on Randall’s menu, a salad of un-fussy Devon crab, Florentine fennel, dandelion and Sardinian Bottarga epitomises the influence of his 17 years at The River Café, ten of them as Head Chef.
Despite the fact that these high-end restaurants populating luxury hotels are widely accepted, there are still some who claim they’re too sedate. I’ve always loved Theo Randall’s menu, service and style at the Intercon, so I was delighted to visit the recently updated restaurant after a short closure.
The décor changes are subtle. They’re clued-in that no one likes white tablecloths anymore. Bare wooden tables, and subdued lime green chairs and banquettes set the tone. A large bowl of Amalfi lemons at the entrance offer a nod to one of the best things on the menu: the lemon tart. More on that later.
Thankfully, Randall understands his clientele well enough to have avoided nixing some of his best dishes, saving many firm favourites. I should know; a couple of them are mine, including the crab salad. I’m pleased to say it hasn’t changed – still fresh, high quality ingredients, locally sourced and unmuddled. We didn’t try the baked Fontina cheese soufflé with spinach, cream and Parmesan, though we were tempted. Instead, we shared the ravioli with ricotta and sage butter. Fresh pasta is one of Randall’s specialties and we could have eaten heaps of ravioli (and would have liked to) before getting that uncomfortable, too-much, feeling.
There’s always been a good selection of healthy, indulgent, meat and vegetarian dishes on the menu and that hasn’t changed. A main course of sea bass baked with porcini mushrooms, fennel and thyme and vermouth – the magic in the sauce lifting the other ingredients – as well as wood-roasted turbot with parsley, capers, artichokes, and rainbow chard were as virtuous as they were delicious.
The wine list is vast, with an unusually large selection of single glasses in the very upper double-digit range.
Service is as friendly, warm and unpretentious as it’s always been. In fact, when agreeing to a glass of prosecco, we merely mentioned the slightly special occasion we were celebrating. As good wait staff do, ours took note and delivered a small, personalised plate of truffles at the end of the meal. Sadly, we had filled up on the taster dessert plate whose highlights were a walnut and orange tart, a honey torte with apples, sultanas and mascarpone, Clementine sorbet, and the understated star, the Amalfi lemon tart. It was as welcoming as it’s companions at reception and left a lingering sweet-tart flavour on the tongue.
Theo Randall’s restaurant may be too under-stated for some, and it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s more central than his alma mater in Hammersmith, and he’s held on to the best bits.