Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Steaking out with the Grosvenors


A review of the JW Steakhouse at the Grosvenor House Hotel

John Willard Marriott was born at the Marriot Settlement, near Ogden in Utah and grew up on his father’s farm. A devout Mormon, Marriott was sent in a railcar at the age of 14 to San Francisco with 3,000 sheep by his father. Here was a man who was a pioneer and who liked to push boundaries.

John Willard Marriott (1900 - 1985)

As he grew older he became more involved in the Mormon’s missionary work and after an assignment first in New England, found the inspiration for his business career in Washington D.C. at the age of 21:

"... [H]e walked from Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument, toiled up the steps to the top, walked back down again, and strolled over to the Lincoln Memorial. Everywhere he went tourists and pedestrians sweltered and sweated in the sultry, humid air. On the way back to his hotel, he just stood there in the street watching the crowds, he couldn't get over it: a push cart peddler would come along the street selling lemonade and soda pop and ice cream, and in minutes he would be cleaned out and on his way to stock up with another cartload."

After university, Marriott returned to Washington in 1927 and secured the franchise rights from A&W Root Beer for Washington D.C.; Balitmore, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia. As the business grew, the entrepreneur opened a restaurant and then the first drive-in east of the Mississippi. By 1953, the company had gone public and the group’s first hotel opened in 1957. In the years that followed, the business expanded dramatically and today includes 3,600 “lodging properties” in 71 countries and territories around the world.

A detail obsessive, Marriott personally inspected each of his establishments at least four times a year and regularly told his management: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.” He continued in this vein until appointing his son, J. Willard “Bill” Marriott, Jr., the company’s CEO in 1972.

The main entrance to the Grosvenor House Hotel

Marriott International, Inc. took over the management of the Grosvenor House Hotel in London’s Park Lane in 2008 after the completion of a £142 million refurbishment. Built in the 1920s on the site of Grosvenor House, the former London residence of the Dukes of Wesminster, the hotel has just under 500 rooms and is best known for it’s 2,000 seat Great Room, originally built as an ice rink, that hosts many of London’s largest events.

 The JW Steakhouse at the Grosvenor House Hotel

The JW Steakhouse at Grosvenor House is named after John Willard Marriott and promises “the finest steak in London” in a “vibrant setting.” Whilst it scores pretty highly on the former, the somewhat empty cavernous space is itself pretty soulless and akin to a conference centre.

JW Steakhouse’s chef, Paul Hallett, has an impressive pedigree. Born in Wales, Hallett previously worked at the Michelin starred La Tompette and at The Dorchester Grill under Tom Aikens before moving to Grosvenor House in 2007. At JW Steakhouse, Hallett has indulged in his “nose to tail” passion for meats and developed an offering that includes the vast JW “Tomahawk” 32oz Aberdeen Angus signature rib eye steak that is served on the bone (£44).

 The JW Steakhouse's Bourbon Bar

We began with a glass of Piper Heidsieck Brut champagne (£11) at the restaurant’s Bourbon Bar overlooking Park Lane and Hyde Park beyond. Though the view was pleasant, the books littering the window, which included one on baked beans and another on caravans, seemed utterly irrelevant to the setting. I was urged to try the accompanying popcorn – a snack that I normally retch at the mere presence of – and found myself wanting to devour the entire bowl as it was truly worthy of an award for its superbness. With this, the JW Steakhouse has scored a most definite hit.

To begin, we ordered the jumbo prawns (£25 for 6) and the JW Maryland style lump crab cake (£14) to share. Both were highly enjoyable and typically American in being vast in size.

The steaks that followed were equally mammoth in proportion and cooked in a 650°C Montague Legend broiler. My companion opted for the Aberdeen Angus hanger steak (£20) and sadly found it a little tough for his liking. I took the waiter’s suggestion of the “Filet Oscar” (6oz: £33, 8oz: £40) that comes topped with lump crab, asparagus and bĂ©arnaise sauce and found it tender and flawlessly cooked.

The accompaniments were, however, somewhat of a damp squib. The onion rings were overly large and greasy whilst the fries were somewhat dull. The slaw was bland in the extreme and the port and stilton sauce was frankly revolting.

To conclude we opted to try the Bettie’s bread pudding served with warm vanilla bean ice cream and a Bourbon hard sauce. Ronald McDonald would have been proud of the portion size but what really amazed was JW’s cheesecake (£10). They proudly announce it as “the best cheesecake this side of the pond” and we both agreed that it truly is. Large enough for 4 people, I’d challenge anyone to find one elsewhere that could beat this lavish offering.

The JW Steakhouse is a restaurant that has elements of hit and elements of miss: the room is far too big, elements of the menu need improvement and the space is lacking in atmosphere. On the other hand, much of what we had was impressive and the popcorn and cheesecake alone make this place worth a punt.

To misquote John Lennon: “All we are saying is give JW a chance.”

JW Steakhouse, Grosvenor House, 86 – 90 Park Lane, W1K 7TN. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7 399 8560. Website: http://www.jwsteakhouse.co.uk

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is always an element of mass production and soullessness with these places nowadays. The difficulty being that the majority of restaurants have to be financed by fairly tasteless people, who don't understand that it is the people that bring the atmosphere no matter how ropey the place. One of the oik-igarchs or an Arab promoter will never be able to see what makes something truly special. If you had the chance to go to the old Chelsea Kitchen- you'll know what I mean.

Jeanette O. said...

The reader suggestions are correct: this place needs tweaks.

Hattie said...

The place is indeed too vast for its own good. They should split the room up and that cafe in the entrance is just ugly.

Ethel said...

Wonderful place. I disagree with elements of your review. The service is superb and I liked the sauces I tried.