September brings a whole load of new restaurants to London and perhaps the Big New Opening of them all is Alex Dilling at Hotel Cafe Royal. Not the most mysterious of restaurant names – as you will have no doubt guessed, the chef is Alex Dilling and his new restaurant is located at Piccadilly’s grand five-star Hotel Cafe Royal.
If you’re not familiar with Alex Dilling, he was previously at two Michelin-starred The Greenhouse (now closed) and before that he worked for Hélène Darroze, shifting between her London and Paris restaurants. His new restaurant at Hotel Cafe Royal is very much in this vein – this is not a chef looking to retire to a countryside pub to cook rustic dishes – offering a choice of multi-course tasting menus that are gunning for those Michelin stars right from the start.
The restaurant is a quiet, intimate little space on the first floor of the hotel with a bank of windows looking out over Regent Street – the tables with these views are the best of the bunch. It’s smart and luxurious but perhaps a little muted for some tastes, with a mostly white and grey colour scheme throughout.
The food is anything but muted however, this is seriously accomplished cooking full of creativity and colour. It leans towards classical French in style, but with a far more modern, lighter touch than you might expect. Still, if you’re a fan of caviar, sweetbreads, and pigeon, you’ll be well catered for here.
At lunch there’s a three course menu for £65 but at dinner you’ll be choosing between a signature tasting menu at £155 and a “connoisseur’s” tasting menu at £195. We went for the signature menu, which begins with a few small snacks to start, our favourite being a smoked mackerel terrine presented almost as a dainty corner sandwich.
The first three proper courses were the best of all (not to say the later ones were bad), including a huge dollop of caviar sitting on top of a smoked oyster cream; beautifully precise slices of mackerel with cuttlefish and buttermilk; and mushroom pate served alongside with a gleaming sphere of foie gras. There is some insanely good bread and butter too – you’ll be given a choice of three breads but you won’t want to miss the caramelised onion brioche.
Moving on, we lapped up a delicate clam chowder with Dorset clams and confit potato, as well as Limousin veal sweetbread in a properly indulgent rich sauce of aged parmesan and anchovy. Get a spoon to finish it all. A whole roast monkfish tail comes presented to each table on a silver tray before being whisked away, Peking duck-style, and reappearing later served with red cabbage and brown butter sabayon. Our final savoury dish was a perfect breast of Brittany pigeon with preserved truffle and sauce Albufera.
A dessert described as ‘hazelnut from Jura’ is a white sphere of sponge, hazelnut, brandy and vanilla cream, tasting almost like a mini Ferrero Rocher cake – a good thing in anyone’s book. The meal ends with a flurry of pettit fours, the best of which is an incredible salted caramel chocolate.
At a time when classic fine dining feels like it’s going out of fashion, Alex Dilling has shown there’s plenty of life in it yet. It’s classical and it’s not cheap but there’s some seriously excellent cooking on display. We’d be amazed if it doesn’t get a Michelin star in the next guide and it could even go straight in with two. Best get in there quick before you can’t get a booking.
68 Regent St., London W1B 4DY