Holborn is just about the last place in London I ever go. It’s even more corporate than the City. It’s basically the City without any of the good bars or restaurants. Instead it’s endless office blocks filled with faceless suits. People churning out an existence. But things are changing. There are plans to turn this into London’s equivalent of Midtown. A destination to go to, rather than a place where you feel the life sucked out of you as you pass through. There’s no surer sign of this change than the luxury Rosewood Hotel opening its door last year, and with it The Holborn Dining Room, a grand all-day brasserie that on looks gives The Delaunay a run for its money.
The restaurant is huge. Think Brasserie Zedel but with less of that cold train station vibe. They have spent an enormous amount of cash to make it look like this. Everything about the room is luxurious, but it can’t shake the straight laced Holborn corporate vibe. The menu didn’t get me excited, nothing was demanding to be ordered. It definitely could have done with being more adventurous. Prices reflect the location, as no doubt a lot of expense accounts dine here, letting them get away with it. A starter of griddled prawns with lemon and garlic butter was £15, and although the prawns were big and juicy, there was nothing more to the dish than 6 of them simply cooked and presented.
Asparagus with hollandaise (£10.50) was again a brutally simple dish. This is the type of food you can churn out to hundreds of covers. It isn’t going to offend anybody, and admittedly the asparagus spears were a good size and tasted great, but it’s not something you’d rush back for.
The mushroom soup (£5.50) was…well it was mushroom soup.
For mains the grilled calf’s liver with piquante sauce and crispy sage (£18.75) was a solid main course, as was the whole lobster coming in a hefty £38. With lemon and garlic butter and a side of fries, there’s no going wrong with this dish, but for £38, especially given you can get it for half that price at Burger and Lobster, I was expecting more.
My main course of roast rib eye ‘club cut’ with pepper sauce and crispy onions (£26.50) was a real let down. First of all there was 2 onions that weren’t that crispy alongside some flaccid lettuce leaves. The steak wasn’t a particularly good cut, and it was tough and flavourless. Something wasn’t right, as if it hadn’t been cooked on a hot enough grill, or that it hadn’t properly been left to rest. The pepper sauce didn’t have any punch and was basically just a jus. With no sides it is also overpriced, and the steamed spinach at £5,50 was under-seasoned and could have done with some lemon or nutmeg. If you’re doing food this simple, you had best get it right.
The puddings are a list of classics that all sound appetising. We settled for the Steamed treacle and whisky pudding with custard (£6.50) which was the worst of the three, only because none of the whisky came through. The boozy trifle made up for this though and was strong enough serve as a nigth-cap. The lemon and rhubarb posset was pleasingly refreshing and a solid end to the meal.
I wouldn’t rush back here, but I can understand the pull of this place. You’ll no doubt always be able to get a table given its size, and it does have that distinctly London vibe. It’s a restaurant you couldn’t get anywhere else in the country and with the excellent Scarfes bar sitting opposite it, also part of the Rosewood Hotel, you can have a great night out coming here. But it will cost you. With a bottle of wine (£55) and a round of beers to start, the bill shot to over £80 a head. The food in no way merited this price, and when you think that The Delaunay is cheaper and has a much more ‘special occasion’ feel, then I know where I will be going next time I want that grand brasserie experience.