Saturday, 26 November 2011

At Forte’s Hotel

Agatha Christie completed her 1965 thriller At Bertram’s Hotel at Brown’s Hotel in Albermarle Street, Mayfair but this frankly is just a small part of what makes this institution so fascinating.

 The entrance to Brown's Hotel

Founded in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown, the couple expanded the property through the purchase of the adjoining St George’s Hotel in 1889 and it subsequently became the haunt of royalty, politicians and personalities. Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call from Brown’s in 1876 whilst Rudyard Kipling completed the Jungle Book there. Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Elizabeth Queen of the Belgians and George II, King of the Hellenes all took up residence during their respective exiles and writers who were regular visitors included Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, JM Barrie and Bram Stoker.

The Forte family first bought Brown’s Hotel in 1968 and owned it losing control of the Forte Group as part of a hostile takeover in 1996. In 2003, as part of a £51.5 million deal, Sir Rocco Forte bought the property back and I recall attending a spectacular party, where guests donned hard hats, that was held to celebrate the return of Brown’s to the family fold.  A £24 million renovation commenced shortly afterwards and the resulting look is now quintessentially English but with a modern twist.

 HIX at The Albermarle with a view towards Tracey Emin's "I loved you more than I can love" installation

HIX at The Albermarle is the main dining room at Brown’s. Classically styled and retaining the original wooden panelling, this is a room that is filled with art by amongst others Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley, Michael Landy and Rankin. With comfortable seating, this bright space is ably managed by Scott McCaig, who formerly worked at Scott’s, The Wolseley and The Ivy.

 HIX at The Albermarle's Executive Chef: Marcus Verberne

Executive Chef Marcus Verberne’s menu is very much about the best of British. Verbenne, who is originally from New Zealand, worked previously at Le Caprice, J Sheekey and The Ivy, and alongside Mark Hix has focused on sourcing the seasonal ingredients through foraging and from the best suppliers.

With a set three course Sunday lunch for £37.50, HIX at The Albermarle’s signature dish is most certainly their roasted rib of Hereford beef with Yorkshire pudding (priced at £24.50 if ordered off the brunch à la carte menu) served from a stunning silver lunch trolley. On the Sunday I dined there, this was by far the most popular choice and on weekdays the trolley offering changes daily through lamb, ham, sirloin, pork, salmon and chicken (prices £19.75 to £25.75).

 An untitled Fiona Rae oil on canvas alongside HIX at The Albermarle's lunch trolley

After sampling the restaurant’s delicious bread and a spicy Bloody Mary (£15), I commenced with a hearty portion of a toasted crumpet with Bath Pig choirzo, sea purslane and a poached Burford Brown egg (£9.50) whilst my companion opted for a hearty soup dish.

For main courses, we both naturally chose the beef. In Jack Spratt fashion, my companion wanted hers well done whilst I wanted mine rare. Cleverly the restaurant managed to suit us both by virtue of the fact that they have two individual trolleys serving meat across the spectrum. Other options include dover sole (£36.50), Lancashire hotpot (£19.50) and a fillet of Kingairloch red deer with bashed neeps and haggis (£25.75).

To conclude we tried a trifle that was a little lacking but the British farmhouse cheese board that followed (£16.75 for two) was served at the correct temperature and quite delicious.

Wines reflect the typically extensive list in terms of price and variety of a five star hotel. Starting at £28 a bottle for an Argentinian Chardonnay, the list rises through a 2003 Château Monbrison Margaux at £89 to the heights of a 1978 La Tache Domaine de la Romanée Conti at £4,750 a bottle. A British beer selection that features HIX’s own oyster ale and an English sparkling wine selection are equally a suitably appropriate touch at this, the capital’s oldest hotel.

The clientele, with the exception of two members of the Spencer-Churchill clan, wasn’t quite on a par with the grand guests of old. On previous visits I recall there being many well-heeled Americans and plenty of Mayfair grandes dames. On this occasion the majority of the customers seemed to be out of towners on Christmas shopping trips and somewhat badly dressed individuals in T-shirts. A slightly stricter dress code would perhaps be an appropriate suggestion.

Overall, HIX at The Albermarle is great value for those seeking the best quality British food. I’ll definitely be returning again and again.

HIX at The Albermarle, Brown’s Hotel, Albermarle Street, London, W1S 4BP. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7518 4004. Email: Website:

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Dark Avenger said...

The afternoon tea at Brown's is also something special.

Anonymous said...

Matthew: You are so right about dress codes. Standards must be maintained. T-shirts and trainers are not appropriate in this setting. Yes, in a pub. But no, not in a five star hotel.