Friday, 15 March 2019

Sumptuous Chesterfield

Get me a cocktail and make it smoky, I said to James, my waiter in the cosy Terrace Bar at the Chesterfield, in London’s Mayfair district.

Or, at least I might have done had I only known precisely what he had in mind when he urged me so strongly to try his Apple Smoked Vieux Carré, one of the signature cocktails at this immensely impressive member of the Red Carnation hotel family.

Had I read the “small print”, as it were, on the cocktail menu, I would have known this was no ordinary pre-dinner tipple, long before James set to work behind the bar with his Bunsen burner.

The cocktail duly arrived, cunningly concealed inside a bell jar full of smoke, which – upon the lifting of the lid – filled the room with a delicious fragrance of smoked apple. Somehow, the smell seemed the perfect sensory complement to the four-piece jazz band providing the early evening mood music.

I ought to add that the cocktail, featuring best bourbon, cognac, Martini Rosso and Benedictine, was exquisite, but – frankly – I’d have forgiven rough old hooch just to witness such showmanship.

My daughter joined me and opted for a Cucumber Gin Cooler, which arrived with luscious canapés atop a bowl of dry ice, whose vapours soon mingled with the smoky residue.

Butler's Restaurant
I was a little apprehensive as to how Butler’s – the house restaurant – might live up to such a curtain-raiser, but this was quickly dispelled by the arrival of our seared Orkney scallops. Searing is a bit of a delicate art: it should be done just long enough to lightly cook but never so long as to toughen. These were perfection itself.

Butler’s focuses on providing the very best of British, excellently prepared and elegantly presented. My daughter surprised me by going for the mallard in a chestnut purée, while I made a more conservative choice of chicken with panhaggerty potatoes, reflecting my own Northumbrian preferences. The mallard arrived as it should – rare and tender.

Well sated, we nonetheless simply couldn’t resist sticky toffee pudding and, unsurprisingly, were not disappointed.

Of course, none of this happens by accident and what impresses most about the Red Carnation family is the attention to detail, which lifts the Chesterfield and its ilk from the ranks of “simple luxury” to something far more personal.

My own room combined soft blues and creams on the tapestry walls, a walnut bureau, whose opening action kept me amused, and a decanter of rather fine sherry to help me settle in. Had I so chosen, I might have delved into Churchill’s war memoirs, neatly splayed on a side table. There was sumptuous sofa too, though not, I should say, a Chesterfield: the hotel is named not for its couches, but after nearby Chesterfield Hill, itself recalling the eponymous 18th century Earl and man of letters.

Red Carnation is a family brand and here I raise a glass to that family, and not last to its driving force, Beatrice Tollman, who, at 85, continues to place her personal stamp on all its properties.
  • I was a guest of the Chesterfield, Mayfair
  • A version of this review appeared in the May 2019 issue of Flybe's mangazine, Flight Time
  • See also my author blog.