Nearly 30 years ago, a young Daniel Humm peeled vegetables in Claridge’s. Little did he know that he would end up returning to that same spot – but this time with a lot more gravitas. Humm has opened his dream restaurant, Davies and Brook, with a moniker that credits its London location, on the corner of these two streets, as well as his New York career (and the Big Apple’s fascination with intersections).
When I quizzed him about his homecoming, a smile trickled through his words: “It’s definitely a sort of pinch-myself moment. Someone asked me the other day how it feels to step back into Claridge’s, but I had never set foot inside before. I used to go straight into the basement kitchen.”
The announcement that Humm, the Swiss chef famous for pushing Eleven Madison Park into the spotlight as the world’s best restaurant in 2017, would soon be rattling the pans for the hotel first came early last year and there was, to put it kindly, a certain amount of expectation. Not just because the five-star grande dame is one of the capital’s most glamorous places to lay your head, but also because this is a man practically synonymous with good food. We’re talking the type that will have you exchanging breathless words with your neighbouring table – yes, this actually happened to me in London. Numerous delays and the announcement of the break-up of Humm and his restaurateur partner, Will Guidara, made me wonder what the end result would look like.
The room is the same one that was home to Simon Rogan’s Fera; it’s been given a swish update but doesn’t look radically different and, like the previous iteration, doesn’t necessarily conjure up excitement levels worthy of the food. An electric green leaf arrangement at the centre echoes Fera’s former tree, and the colour scheme is muted. A glowing bar is an eye-catching addition, as is Roni Horn’s suggestive photo series of mountain landscapes that bear resemblance to a nude painting. As for service, waiters whirl around white tablecloths, anticipating your every move. It’s a classy, typical fine-dining look, which is fine, but it’s what’s on the plate that counts. This is where the expectations lie, and this, reader, is where they exceed.
Bread and butter with a twist came first, and was perhaps the best example of the style of cooking on show: taking the simplest of dinner menu items and elevating it to the highest power. The bread was similar to a paratha, but laminated in butter rather than ghee, so what arrived was like a denser, filthier version of a croissant. It was impossible to not make a flaky mess while tearing chunks off to slather with butter, which was no ordinary spread, having been coated in scallop consommé and smoked nori. This was paired with a cup of scallop broth (drunk like tea) and a marinated scallop served on the shell with pickled apple slices, grated horseradish and zingy vinaigrette.
Another highlight came from learning what superb bedfellows caviar and butternut squash make. A hefty portion of Imperial Oscietra caviar was tucked into the long-roasted vegetable, which acted not just as an ornamental cup but as a partner to the black pearls when the sweet buttery slabs peeled away with the spoon.
It was almost comical how waiters beamed with enthusiasm at the fact you can order à la carte. Had these people never eaten in a normal restaurant? Humm was also keen to hammer this home: “At Claridge’s, we were able to start with a blank slate – this is my ideal version of a fine-dining restaurant. There’s choice and à la carte communal dishes on the menu.”
That there is. Sea bass ceviche wore a hat of slim avocado slices; black truffle crème fraîche and a crisp base really was the wet dream of the bar snack world; and the milk and honey dessert was like a decadent version of a Mr Whippy. The wine list measures in at more than 130 pages, and there’s a bizarre contraption used to open really old bottles. It’s all part of the show.
This is a destination dinner spot that will get you properly excited. What is particularly pleasing is how Davies and Brook has fitted so well into the bosom of Claridge’s. The techniques may be modern and the flavours worldly, but what appears in front of you has a traditional, stately appeal befitting a hotel of such grandeur.
Humm said: “When I first started cooking, I was really enamoured by grand hotels, because there is so much history to them. But no one knew who was cooking. I think the last thing people wanted was to eat at a hotel restaurant. The time of the celebrity chefs changed that, but still it was almost like the chef had real estate in the hotel. Today, I am very proud to be part of Claridge’s history.”