The Montagu Kitchen Review
by Nick Harman - Tuesday September 25, 2018 10:09 am
Hotel restaurants don’t get a lot of love from non-guests, but The Montagu Kitchen is pushing to be noticed outside of the lobby
The Montagu Kitchen in Portman Square is part of the Hyatt Regency London - The Churchill hotel. The hotel’s rather grim exterior belies an interior of some style and easy charm, which decor-wise apparently is inspired by Winston’s sense of Britishness.
Churchill was famous for a lot of things of course, but being a gourmet wasn’t one of them. He used to eat and smoke at the same time, or so they say.
He has his own place in the hotel, The Churchill Bar & Terrace a rather elegant bar, full of Winston memorabilia and naturally with cigars available. Next door the restaurant, The Montagu Kitchen, is an ‘all-day dining destination’ that takes inspiration from the National Trust’s Chartwell House and Garden in Kent.
If you’ve ever been to Chartwell, Churchill's’ elegant country home in Kent, you’ll know why he was so keen to defend our sceptred isle; his personal piece of it is beautiful and the idea of anyone goose-stepping over the manicured lawns would even today be enough to motivate anyone to take up arms.
So, the dining room at The Montagu nods to Chartwell - it’s is open sided to the main hotel with lots of windows looking out onto the square. These have boxes freshly planted with flowers and herbs from Chartwell to create a rather pleasant country feel as well as a screen which means you don’t have to see the celebs falling out of Home House opposite.
Kent-born Executive Chef, Mark Sainsbury is, we are told, taking inspiration from the seasons at Chartwell, so his menu changes as the year rolls around. So, let’s eat September.
Even though it’s lunch, I like a cocktail (as long as it isn’t too sweet). A Lavender Sour Field Chase Gin, Lavender Syrup, Lemon Juice, Egg white sounds good and it is.
Pleasantly astringent, and a wonderful lavender colour, it’s a good kick off, as is the potato and pumpkin bread with its slightly underpowered paprika butter. Above average bread is usually a reliable sign of a restaurant that’s trying harder.
The 16 Hours Cured Salmon with pickled cucumber, confit tomato, radish, crispy skin and National Trust cider horseradish mustard is I think a little stingy on the salmon, but eaten slowly it hits the spot. Thickly sliced, gently cured.
The crispy skin puts me in mind of Restaurant Texture, around the corner and the mustard partners well with the salmon, adding a bit of heat and some subtle sweetness too.
I like the tomatoes in particular; they have shrunken down from the confit process and that’s increased their flavour exponentially.
M’s also happy with his Poached Lobster with samphire and potato salad, grapefruit, nasturtium, and vanilla mayonnaise. Samphire’s salty crunch is a foil to the buttery lobster, although we both agree lobster is rarely as tasty as King Crab, just more expensive.
A burst of acidity from the grapefruit, a citrus I still associate with my mother’s doomed breakfast health drives in the late 70s, is good to have on the case, and the vanilla mayonnaise, which could have usefully arrived in a larger quantity accents the lob’s sweet nature.
Both courses are all prettily presented, better than one might expect from a ‘hotel restaurant’ and it seems to be working as lunch service is busy, and not just with the usual conference drone types in dry-cleaned jeans.
M wants the Steamed Brixham Turbot with Swiss chard, fondant celeriac, razor clams, tomato and grape salad. He’s the guest, so I let him, although I fancied it myself.
Another elegant plateful; we’re concerned at first the razor clam has escaped but in fact it has been diced up. M thinks the fish a bit over-salted, but it doesn’t stop him eating it with many expressions of enjoyment. He likes the celeriac too.
Me, I’m on the guinea fowl, the posh way that serious chefs get over their dislike of cooking chicken. A proper plump breast with plenty of moisture still in the meat - guinea fowl can overcook and dry out in just a flap of the wing.
Baked butternut squash gives a mealy sweetness, and is of course bang on season, while wilted spinach lends a determined iron tang. Not too much red wine sauce, just enough, and a crispy skin that demands to be picked up and nibbled.
We share a bowl of creamy mash whipped to perfection, well we fight over it a bit - good mash does that to us. Both the mains seemed good for proper portion size. I don’t wish to sound greedy about this but having lived through the nouvelle cuisine years, I maintain that less is not actually more, not when it comes to food and when I am paying.
Which is why I’m happy to take on a big slice of classic apple pie for my dessert. Lots of fine apples still firm to the bite, lots of good crust, a fair bit of sugar, some vanilla ice cream. This ticks all my boxes.
It’s the sort of dessert whose remains Winston would probably have rudely put his cigar out in as he called for the port.
And as it happens there is some port in M’s dessert; an English Custard Tart with Earl Grey & Churchill Port poached pears and a blackcurrant and vanilla sauce.
The tart is a proper thick slice and as wobbly as a minor MP’s voting record. It’s a plate scraper.
Service is enthusiastic throughout, it could perhaps be dialled down a notch, and we like the open to view kitchen. I’m not sure about the open to the lobby space though, I prefer a hotel restaurant to be separate but I suppose it’s in the nature of what it has to do.
Montagu Kitchen is keen to offer guests more than the usual hotel restaurant eating experience, and it works. You can’t escape the fact that you’re in a hotel, but you don’t worry about it.
We shall definitely fight them on the beaches, we decide as we leave, but we will need to have a little lie down first.