252 High Holborn, London, United Kingdom WC1V 7EN www.holborndiningroom.com
A marvellous Mittle European setting for determined and successful British food
The Rosewood London resembles a fantastical ducal palace with its marble interiors and an interior courtyard where black cabs spin on a sixpence to drop wealthy guests. For extra-special guests a hotel-owned Range Rover, Aston Martin and a Bentley crouch on the cobbles ready to fetch and carry.
And yet this magnificent building was originally the home of prosaic Pearl Assurance, designed by H. Percy Monkton in 1912. The two original banking halls are now respectively Scarfe’s Bar and The Holborn Dining Room and are both remarkable spaces, with the latter for my money being one of the best looking brasseries in London.
Indeed one could be in Paris or (I am reliably told, New York) with its copper-topped bars and red banquette seating and it feels remarkably intimate, partly due to the moody lighting that verges on penumbral. There are candles on all the tables, but you still have to peer myopically to read the menu.
It’s a cosy place and relaxed, a feeling you don’t get often enough in London where the choice often polarises between a stiff and stuffy restaurant, or a place packed out with poseurs and with seating designed for children.
Executive chef here is Calum Franklin and he’s designed a British Brasserie menu, which, once illuminated by my’phone, is full of rather good stuff. Beetroot and gin cured salmon with pickled cucumber is sliced thickly and I like this break from tradition as it gives more to chew on. The beetroot adds an earthy sweetness and those juniper notes from the gin are just right, as is the vinegar twang of the cucumber.
His Scotch Egg is an award-winner apparently and so while I don’t normally bother with that kind of thing outside of picnics, it seems churlish not to try it. It comes looking very good, even under the orange lighting, an ovoid bisected and with a glistening golden yolk all perched on a thick base of tartar sauce that also stops the halves rolling drunkenly off the plate.
The outer meat has an almost haggis-like consistency and depth of flavour, a far cry from a supermarket Scotch Egg, the richness is cut by that chunky, well-capered, sauce. It’s easy to see why it was a winner
Short rib cottage pie is a dish I only get a forkful of, but the depth of flavour is very impressive as is the classic piping of mash on top; a vista of rolling waves with breakers of brown from the grill. Comfort Food is an overused phrase, Reassuring or Relaxed Food might be better and this is the epitome of food that you could eat to get over a breakup or to drown a sorrow.
Fish comes from day boats off the Cornish coast apparently, and the day’s special is hake. Now I love hake, especially in Spain. Okay they deep-fry it, which is terribly unhealthy, but it’s a fish that loves to be fried so who can blame them?
Here it’s pan fried, probably finished in the oven, and done very well too with the skin just as I like it properly seared and coloured. It’s a big hunk, which can often trick chefs into either overcooking for safety or leaving the centre a bit too translucent for my liking. No issues here though and it’s sat on a medusa tangle of braised sweet peppers with cubes of chorizo dotted about for a mildly fiery kick.
With it we eat truffle and parmesan fries plus a bowl of mac n cheese, the latter still apparently trendy although personally I left it behind with my teenage years. This example has roasted garlic and is, I am told by my neighbouring expert on such things, correctly gooey. I like both sides well enough but can’t eat them all thanks to carb overload.
But of course, as is the way of things I perk up for dessert, thinking that a steamed whisky treacle sponge with custard will go down well. As it happens I don’t get much discernable treacle or whisky and if it wasn’t for the excellent custard, this would have been a rather dry and humourless dish to deal with.
No problems next door with a rhubarb and ginger trifle, which is clearly moist and moreish and which I should try, but by now I am feeling like I may need rolling out of the restaurant so I don’t.
Holborn Dining Room is a rather fabulous place to eat and the food is well up to snuff. Its location in what is still, rather hopefully referred to as Midtown (better than Middle of Nowhere, I suppose), is the only slight obstacle it faces to justifiably being even busier than it already is.
Photos supplied by restaurant