Monday, November 19, 2007


Hotel restaurants often have a reputation of being soul-less places, flogging uninspired food to visitors who don't know where the better places are or are simply too tired to care. As with all stereotypes and all rules though, there are exceptions. The Malmaison hotel oozes elegance as befits its location in a large townhouse on the leafy, fenced off Charterhouse Square. There is a champagne bar where you can tuck into a platter of oysters, and a full-scale restaurant. It is a dark place, all deep reds and blacks, but this works well at creating an intimate feeling and, on quieter nights, at concealing the empty tables. There are also a few quirks to entertain the eye, such as an avangarde wine rack in a wire cage. There is good olive oil on the tables, and a complimentary wooden platter of bread, butter and flavoursome black olive tapenade appears swiftly. On weeknights there's a good value set menu for about £16 for two courses. This being a Friday night though we were presented with the rather more pricy a la carte. Uncharacteristically, I ordered the braised pork cheeks with honey and cloves (£14.95) because a) I was pretty sure I'd never tried them before, and b) they came with gratin dauphinoise, my favourite side order of all time. Judging by the size of the portion, this particular little hog had had pretty chubby face. With hindsight, I learn from the "Daily Pork" website ("exclusive pork coverage) that since cheek muscles do a lot of chewing this cut of meet is rich in fat and tastes best slow-cooked. The dish is certainly very rich, both in the braised meaty flavour and in the fat. Unfortunately, I am not a fan of fatty meat, but fortunately the husband thinks it is a delicious and agrees to a swap. I am a little sorry to wave good bye to the potatoes, which came in near little golden square islands in the sea of dark brown porkiness. But I am pleased with the exchange - delicious slices of rare lamb with sweet roasted vegetables (beetroot and squash). This was all the more exciting because it was actually mutton rather than lamb - a meat that has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence of late (thanks to Prince Charles apparently!) but which I naively thought was more suited to casseroles and stews than a light grilling. Incidentally they also do a good line of steaks.

A new touch (may be because it was a Friday night) was the wine waiter. He brought us the menu and then re-appeared a few minutes later, having swatted up on our food order and ready with suggestions. We'd already chosen though, intrigued by the idea of a red wine made with port grapes in Portugal's Douro region. It was a good discovery, rich and heavy.

Malmaison, 18-21 Charterhouse St, EC1M 6AH, ; Tel. 0207 012 3700; Tube: Barbican

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