January tends to be a dismal period in the restaurant business; whether as a result of trends like ‘Dry January’ and ‘Veganuary’ or simply because people are looking to save money and cut back on indulging post-Christmas, it’s a tough month to be a restaurateur. The newly-opened and highly-anticipated Davies & Brook in Claridge’s does not appear to have this problem: on a Monday night in early January it was conspicuously well-frequented.
The reason for the anticipation is Daniel Humm, a Swiss-born chef with three Michelin stars under his belt for his New York restaurant, Eleven Madison Park. There has also been a long wait for this new project; it opened six months after the planned date and Humm split from his business partner during the process. Now that it has opened, however, it certainly looks set for success.
Humm’s New York background is evident throughout the dining experience, from the immaculately slick service – the staff are insightful, friendly and witty – to the smart surroundings. The room, formerly Simon Rogan’s Fera, is as elegant as they come, with cream walls, one statement vase of calla lilies and decidedly plush furnishings. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the room is the collection of Roni Horn’s photographs lining the walls; each features the landscape of Iceland in such a way as to resemble a woman’s breast.
The food is classic French in style: think rich sauces and deep flavours. There are two dining choices; the tasting menu at £145/head or a four course à la carte option of cold starter, warm starter, main and dessert at £98/head. We opted for the latter and a bottle of Gusbourne’s English chardonnay from the weighty tome that serves as wine list. Our meal started with an amuse-bouche of delightfully fresh scallops with apple and horseradish, accompanied by two heavenly things: a deeply flavoured scallop broth and the most beguiling bread I’ve ever encountered. Part wholemeal bread, part croissant, it has a decadent 12 layers and combines the best of pastry and the best of bread-making. I could eat it everyday and never stop marvelling at it.
That feeling is the theme of the food: not necessarily exciting for its new flavour combinations but endlessly interesting to people who love technique and finesse. The sequence of the four course à la carte works well; the cold starter, a zingy, fresh dish designed to perk you up, is followed by the decadent welcome of the richer warm starters. I opted for turbot with leeks, thyme and black radish and it was perhaps the best dish of the evening. The mains pick up these deep, grown-up flavours, showcasing high-end ingredients like venison, halibut and black cod, all delightful. The menu ended on a high note with an apple cider doughnut, the hole filled with perfect squares of apple in their own compote. Few doughnuts can make any claim to refinement, but this is one of them.
It’s clear that Humm and his team are experts in fine dining and gracious hospitality; as such the restaurant is in perfect harmony with the atmosphere of Claridge’s. It may be somewhat out of touch with the recent direction of the London restaurant scene, but sometimes old school service and crisp white linen can be a wonderful thing. Wherever you choose to go, from a new opening to a favourite neighbourhood local to you, I urge you to visit restaurants this month and give them the boost they need in January. If you want them to keep on dishing up the plates, you’ve got to support them.