Douglas Blyde takes a trip to The Grill by Tom Booton on Park Lane and tastes how head sommelier Leonardo Barlondi “pairs a brave and personal course when it comes to liquid collaborators” with the menu.
“Although called a grill restaurant, it seems much more than that having really outgrown that term,” wrote Hot Dinners’ Gavin Hanley of The Dorchester’s freshly re-badged British restaurant. “Any potential stuffiness is driven away by a menu that is having fun and providing a good few moments of extreme comfort food” he added.
Beneath the original, Baroque ceiling, today’s lighter scheme is by Bruno Moinard, co-designer, with Claire Betaille, of Ten Trinity Square’s wine-led members’ club, which features a carpet suggestive of a river of wine and, incongruously, fake fires floating in fireplaces, and, pared back to the point of parody, the accommodation at the nineteenth-century Château Latour.
At The Grill by Tom Booton, accessed off the rejuvenated promenade, which happens to be the same length as Nelson’s Column, a series of panels on one wall manually rotate according to the time of day, accentuating the passing of time in this daylight-free room. Opposite is a bar serving “Sloegronis”, while the kitchen counter faces Alain Ducasse’s personal collection of copper pots and jelly moulds – and two apparently decorative green eggs. The updated playlist features such tracks as “Any Day Will Do Fine” (Michael Kiwanuka) which hopefully sums up how guests might feel when deciding on a date to dine here.
Newly bound in teal, the “Guide to The Wine Vault” is overseen by the hotel’s head of wines, Matteo Furlan, who gained an early insight into hospitality at his family’s restaurant near Venice. On coming to London, he joined J Sheekey, then Hakkasan’s HKK (RIP) under master sommelier and DIY fan, Tobias Brauweiler “who suggested I go for the Court of Master Sommeliers,” he recalls. Furlan subsequently rose through the ranks of The Ritz to become head sommelier under Giovanni Ferlito MCA. After six years, he joined The Dorchester in April.
There, where three people rotated in the head of wines role in as many years, the list has come to show a wide-eyed worldliness, with bins ranging from Kadarka to Koshu. The most rare and glamorous bottles are displayed on bespoke Italian racks in the Wine Vault, an escalator ride beneath the restaurant, where it and a private dining room featuring a colossal Baccarat chandelier, overlook the main kitchens.
While those with means may access the likes of Le Pin 2005, subject to a mark-up of £8,000 — equivalent to spending New Year’s Eve in the Dorchester Suite (including breakfast!) — remarkably for this five-star Park Lane icon of a hotel, approximately a third of this list is devoted to bottles under £100. An example from the latter is Emiliana Los Robles’ Coyam 2014 at £65 for an otherwise now hard-to-come-by vintage.
The brigade is led by Colchester born, Tom Booton, who ascended to become the hotel’s youngest head chef in 2019, having earned his spurs at Le Talbooth, Alyn Williams at The Westbury (RIP) where he became, on his return to the venue, head chef, L’Autre Pied (RIP), then, after travails in New York, Copenhagen and Iceland, Dabbous (RIP). With Booton’s full-flavoured dishes, served on plates by Peckham potter, Laura Hughes, head sommelier, Leonardo Barlondi, previously of The Cadogan, Maze (RIP) and MASH (RIP), dexterously pairs a brave and personal course when it comes to liquid collaborators.
Fluence, a deep, Brut Nature Champagne by producer, Franck Pascal, who avoids chemicals having in a past life, elucidated soldiers on the perils of chemical warfare, meets a selection of snacks, ordered from a bright red menu, which are almost sufficient to constitute a meal in their own right. The highlights, as described by Booton, included the “KFC-style” fried shimeji mushrooms evoking the look of the arms of the chandelier at the centre of the room. Crispy semolina parcels, filled with Gouda cheese and topped with home-cured salami, also shows flair.
Next, a starter of raw scallop capped with a thin disc of kohlrabi and kombu gel, with pea sauce poured at the table, gains citric freshness with Argyros Assystriko 2021 from octogenarian vines sown close to the Santorini coast. Here, Barlondi mentions his love for indigenous varieties – and his determination to travel to the source of such treasures. Despite its alcohol at 14.5%, the oak-free, salt-kissed wine feels balanced.
This still remains one of London’s great grill rooms, hence the order of a 500g rib eye to share, juicy and pink in the right places, topped with battered padrón peppers, with gravy decanted from the mouth of an antique cow-shaped sauce jug.
With this sharing dish, Barlondi shows another coastal wine, this time from Colares, which he discovered on a visit to Sintra. Made from phylloxera-free, sand-sown Ramisco, the 2021 has a relatively gentle alcohol level (12%), kept in check, says Barlondi, by summer mists. Matured in French and Brazilian oak, the result is akin to bitter dark chocolate, being “similar to Nebbiolo, with incredible acidity.”
Finally, a tall twirl of strawberry and cream soft service impressed with mint finds two matches, with fresh five Puttonyos Tokaji from Sauska (2017) and Mii No Umeshu, a vibrant 20-year-old plum sake from Fukuoka, imported via the Netherlands.
This is a dining room we have known for decades, from when it wore a caricature, but cosy Scottish look to the shiny, chic feel of today, now boosted by four added hero banquettes. Booton is rightly lauded, though Barlondi, who is less exposed to the press, equally deserves praise not only for steadying the ship for the nine-month-long interval between the departure of his predecessor, Szabolcs Ménesi, and Furlan’s arriva, but also for his gentle influence in bringing rarities which he truly believes in, onto the list of a global superstar of a hotel which manages to actually improve each time it gets a facelift…
- Leonardo Barlondi’s personal approach to wine selection
- “All the chicken” – comprising a skilfully interpreted entire roast chicken for two
- Regional Champagne selection
- Large formats
- Exceptional teas, including cocoa nibs (Malawi and Grenadian)
Value: 91; Size: 96; Range: 95; Originality: 93; Experience: 95; Total: 94
The Grill by Tom Booton – 53 Park Lane, London, W1K 1QA; 020 7629 8888; dorchestercollection.com
This article was originally published by the drinks business and has been shared with permission.