Everyone knows the famous phrase, ‘the devil is in the detail.’ I can’t help but think of this when I am sitting in the reimagined gold and black accented room of The Grill at The Dorchester, having a casual chat with the new and insanely talented head chef, Tom Booton.
Not only is he the youngest ever chef to head up The Grill at The Dorchester, his arrival marks a fresh and modern approach at this hallowed institution. Formerly of Alyn Williams at The Westbury, Tom made a name for himself by continuously innovating and insisting on using local ingredients that let dishes speak for themselves.
This razor-sharp approach hasn’t changed at The Dorchester. Tom has already made his mark with charming front of house staff dressed in shirts from a supplier in Shoreditch, flowerpots sourced from a friend in Peckham and all the gents wearing the same inky black Chelsea boots. Consistency is key with Tom, and as he shows us around the room he adds how important it is to have his own personal twist on not only the cooking but the whole experience of dining in this famous room. It’s punchy for a man of only 26!
When we sit down there are no starchy tablecloths, instead bare polished wood tables. I quite like what it adds to the atmosphere – much less pretentious, more modern, fun and stripped back, very Tom. Table 23 is a cosy corner table with great views of the whole room and the brand new pudding bar.
The cocktail menu is fantastically put together by award-winning mixologist Lucia Montanelli. I order a Gentleman Tom, made with the hotel’s own brand of gin which has a citrusy kick. My dining companion (Luxuriate’s Editor) orders his usual, a very dry gin martini with a double twist, and nods with a satisfied smile in acknowledgement.
As drinks arrive, a canapé of chicken liver parfait is brought to us with an apple and orange chutney-bottomed pastry base. Its smooth, velvety texture is lifted to another level by a tangy chutney.
A beautifully spherical, chocolate brown burnished loaf of bread set the tone for the evening. Tom brought this to the table, explaining that it took a year to perfect. He worked with British winery Chapel Down on a porter which brought an intense, yeasty treacle-like flavour and aroma out of the bread. It is accompanied by a churned chive butter (I finish the whole bowl) and black pudding. Wholesome and hearty.
The reinvigorated menu Tom has created is so enticing. We kick off with scallop ceviche and baby artichoke salad with foie gras snow. The scallop arrives in the half-shell, surrounded by fronds of seaweed and orange granita and zings off the plate with freshness. The baby artichoke salad has the foie gras snow added at the table for an extra bit of theatrics and comes with a crispy potato skin and truffle.
We follow with the much talked about prawn scotch egg with warm tartare sauce and Cornish mackerel with bouillabaisse. Firstly, that bouillabaisse!! It’s so difficult to get right and often takes hours to get all the flavours of the different fish to amalgamate seamlessly. This one is accomplished and accompanied by a delicate but fragrant fennel salad. I was very intrigued by the idea of a crustacean scotch egg, but the local (of course) prawns wrapped around the egg were juicy and fresh, and I will never ever say no to homemade tartare sauce. A must-order.
Tom’s laser-like razor focus and penchant for personalisation are also apparent in the main courses. The beautifully presented lobster thermidor tart is a signature dish through and through. Native lobster (frozen quickly to tenderise it then cooked) with a fat piece of tail meat is bordered by a chunky shortcrust pastry and a viscous lobster bisque topped with a thermidor foam. The Tom twist here is the use of a sharp Westcombe cheddar in the pastry base. A genius yet simple sounding idea executed well.
Tom has installed a pudding bar at the back of the dining room where you can pull up a pew and have a chat with the pastry team. His take on a Double Decker (his favourite chocolate bar) is dreamy. It includes crisped rice, toasted marshmallow and a melted caramel middle encased in milk chocolate.
Tom’s keenness on using only seasonal ingredients is also reflected in the desserts with the flavours of his soft serve ice cream changing every few weeks with a colourful rhubarb and custard in the pipeline. We try a fig leaf ice cream which is a crisp, clean revelation and is served alongside doughnuts dusted with sugar and yoghurt crumbs for contrast. We also had a preview of a zingy clementine leaf, zest and juice ice cream.
I decided to be cheeky and order an extra dessert of pineapple tarte tatin with rum and raisin ice cream. The pineapple has been dry-aged for a couple of days in advance of baking and has a firm but yielding caramelised texture, well paired with the boozy ice cream.
It feels as though each step of the experience has been carefully considered with minute painstaking detail. We want to return very soon to sample the rest of the menu including a much talked about beef wellington which we see flying out of the kitchen.
As dinner ends with dainty mini cannelés, I think again about that phrase – the devil is in the detail. In this case, Tom Booton is most certainly the “devil”, but you know what? I am perfectly happy with that.
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