Grace Dent channels her inner Mitford sister at Céleste
By- GRACE DENT
Often in London, I find the most glamorous part of the night is entering or exiting the party. This may come from a childhood spent adoringly watching Princess Diana on the Nine O’Clock News as she stepped from a Bentley into yet another London restaurant — toned limbs, chic gown and a clatter of paparazzi. Who cared what went on inside? It was that moment that made London seem so damn exciting.
I felt this again as I approached the freshly revamped Lanesborough hotel, that imposing Greek Regency-style palace that sits on Hyde Park Corner delighting passing tourist coach tours, while being a general no-go area to the capital’s eight million other residents. An executive junior suite at The Lanesborough costs £1,850 per night not including breakfast. One, literally, gets not a sausage for one’s money.
One will, however, get the chance to pull up outside and be called Madam by a man in a bowler hat, feeling like Shahpari Khashoggi just popping by to rendezvous with Liz Taylor, which I enjoyed so much I was tempted to miss dinner at Céleste and spend the rest of the evening driving round and round Hyde Park Corner making umpteen glamorous re-returns. £80m has been lavished on The Lanesborough. I can believe it; the place is bursting with clutter and fuss. Evidently, it is all eye-wateringly expensive fuss — the trompe-l’oeil marbling, 19th-century art, gold leaf — but fuss it is. No clean Scandi lines or pared-down luxury here. I defy you to visit Céleste without spending the first ten minutes simply staring at this brightly lit Venetian-style dining room painted a sugary blue, with bas-relief friezes, fluted columns and a domed glass roof from which are suspended three enormous chandeliers.
Céleste it is named and like the Mary Celeste it was oddly deserted. A member of the charming staff showed me to a table and a flawless service commenced. I felt exactly like a Mitford sister in Paris, dining defiantly despite the war. My friend Matthew joined me and recounted jollier times when the room hosted dinner dances with jazz and champagne. ‘Perhaps by Christmas,’ a waiter told us when we asked if such giddiness might return.
Executive chef Florian Favario brings five years’ experience at three-Michelin-star Le Bristol in Paris. Céleste offers precisely the type of ornately hewn dinner one grows to expect in such places: delicate offerings that leave one intrigued and impressed yet never actually fed. A starter of two florets of cauliflower, creamed then deep-fried in a slick of curry oil and parmesan, was delightful. Whether it was £18 worth of delightful is a matter of debate.
The British waters lobster starter was almost hysterically untroubled by seafood. A small piece of sublimely cooked day boat cod arrived with a glass teapot of delicious shitake broth. A dainty serving of Angus rib topped with roasted bone marrow slinked in on a bed of grilled Baby Gem lettuce. An outstanding plate of grilled Welsh lamb arrived on a tiny mound of Israeli couscous, but largely The Lanesborough was a carb-free dining district. When the cheese plate arrived we fell on it like Vikings. Puddings were the star of the show. The Caribbean Guanaja chocolate was a rich tarte-like offering with a caramelised cashew nut praline. The pudding named ‘Farmed cow’s milk’ was an odd-looking spherical ball of sorbet, puffed rice and foam.
It resembled the mysterious findings of a space exploration. This was the kind of dinner that left me thoughtful, mildly cross and grateful to have experienced it. This is the most ridiculously large bill I’ve been presented with during my Grace and Flavour days, short of when Alvin Leung ‘The Demon Chef’ charged me £510 for two to eat dim sum. But then Leung served me a pudding called ‘Sex on the Beach’, which resembled a sugar-spun condom, so decorum wise, and on every other front, The Lanesborough is certainly winning.
1 cauliflower £18
1 British lobster £34
1 cod fillet £28
1 rib-eye £38
1 Welsh lamb £28
1 Burford egg £20
1 cheese selection £14
1 farmed milk £15
1 Guanaja dessert £15
Wine & drinks £198
The Lanesborough, Hyde Park Corner, SW1 (020 7259 5599;lanesborough.com)