Three very different combinations of restaurant and hotel considered.
Whether you see them as ‘hotel dining rooms’ or ‘restaurants within hotels’ probably depends on your age.
I am old enough to remember when hoteliers nurtured their own chefs, the likes of Richard Shepherd, Brian Turner and the late Gary Rhodes at London’s Capital Hotel. But since the early 1990s and the initial ambitions of San Francisco hotelier Bill Kimpton who insisted on a separate entrance and a welcoming fire as essentials for the success of his restaurants within hotels, the latter approach has definitely been the more popular, and possibly more successful.
There have been numerous versions of Nobu in hotels worldwide; Alain Ducasse restaurants can be found at The Dorchester in London and in hotels across France and Asia; and most recently there is the opening of Pavyllon in the Four Seasons Hotel in London, the latest offering from the highly talented French chef Yannick Alléno.
Hotels have the clientele, the necessary capital to invest in all the hardware a top chef dreams of, as well as the ability to hire a sizeable kitchen brigade. I recently ate at Pavyllon and contrast it here with a more modest but thoroughly enjoyable meal at the Hotel Portixol in Palma de Mallorca which, if it were not 1,000 miles south of where I live, and accessible only by air, would otherwise become a very firm favourite.
Pavyllon, Four Seasons Hotel, London
No expense has been spared by the Canadian-owned hotel group in the transformation of what was Amaranto restaurant into Pavyllon. Yannick Alléno is quite a catch; he holds a plethora of Michelin stars around the world, and I can still recall the flavours of the meal we ate at Ledoyen in Paris in 2016. This is Alléno’s first foray into London.
A smartly dressed doorman awaits. Then it is into a large space that has been cleverly compartmentalised with a bar with a separate menu, off to the left. I was asked whether I would like to sit at the counter, directly opposite the chefs in an open kitchen, or at a table. I immediately chose the counter.
I was promptly welcomed by Connor, a Crystal Palace supporter who, having introduced himself, told me sotto voce that he was probably the only English person I would encounter during the evening. There was a truly international team behind the counter (pictured above), all smartly dressed, all smiling and matched by the impeccably attired restaurant manager Janice Wongso, her mixologist and sommelier.
The menu and the thick wine list arrived. There is a good selection by the glass and I ordered a glass of Riesling 2020 from Peter Jakob Kühn in the Rheingau while I made a rather simple decision. I was tempted by the Comté souffle (£26), as much for the watercress sauce and eel butter, and then by the dish described as red mullet (£49) with chorizo butter and a North African chermoula sauce of parsley, coriander and garlic. I also happen to adore red mullet and see it all too rarely on London menus.
I sat back and watched the theatre. The rather military-looking – short hair and moustache – Benjamin Ferra y Castell is head chef and obviously in charge as he accepts first-course dishes from the left and turns and calls for service. Everybody paid attention, respectfully.
Both the dishes I ordered proved to be excellent. The soufflé was rich and flavourful and covered in a thick watercress sauce that must have taken the cook quite a long time to prepare, not to mention quite a lot of watercress to reduce thoroughly. The same was true of my red mullet, quite a large fillet, topped with diced clams, the whole enlivened by a piquant chorizo sauce. The fish was accompanied by a small bowl of pommes purées, Alléno’s second nod to Robuchon after the adoption of his style of counter service. A dish of 50% butter and 50% potato, it is the responsibility of one young chef.
Disappointment came only with the choice available on the dessert menu. Mid September ought to be the ideal time for a pastry section to show just what it can do with the plethora of fresh fruit in season: apricots, strawberries, mirabelles, pears, plums and raspberries. But the only fruit dish on offer was one of summer raspberries and coconut with a dill sorbet (!). I settled for a vanilla Napoléon (£18) that was overly sweet, paid my bill of £133.40 and left. I am delighted that Alléno finally has a presence here in London and I remain confident that the quality and range of the food served here will only improve.
Pavyllon, Four Seasons Hotel, Hamilton Place, London W1J 7DR; tel: +44 (0)20 7319 5200
Hotel Portixol, Palma de Mallorca
This whitewashed hotel is a 30-minute walk east of Palma and a five-minute taxi ride from the airport. And while a walk along the beach allows any plane spotter the opportunity to watch the steady arrival of planes throughout the day and evening, including now direct flights from the US, the small, former village of Portixol is far enough away not to hear, and certainly not to smell, anything from the airport.
On an early September Sunday we renewed our acquaintance with this relaxed, well-run hotel. Sunlight poured into the hotel entrance, its bar and its restaurant, which faces the sea across the hotel swimming pool, and wind rushed through the palm trees and rattled the yachts moored in the marina next door.
And once again the restaurant delivered. A first course described as simply ‘toast with shrimps and crab’ was far more than the sum of its parts: lots of shellfish, carefully peeled, bound in a creamy sauce. This was followed by an even more successful main course described as turbot, black rice and a shellfish laksa. What arrived were two thick slices of expertly grilled fish on top of the rice with an elegantly flavoured, carefully-spiced, thick version of the Malaysian coconut soup around it. We finished with a plate of cheese – enough for both then and the following night’s omelette back home in London – and a glass of deliciously cool Mallorcan red, 4 Kilos, Callet 2019 at €12 a glass.
After thoroughly enjoying our second Sunday lunch in this ‘restaurant within a hotel’ (at the first in August 2022 we’d run into a local winemaker and her family) we were struck by a conundrum: when and how could we return to stay in the hotel en famille ourselves without adding to the world’s carbon emissions?
Hotel Portixol Calle Sirena 27, 07006 Palma de Mallorca, Spain; tel: +34 971 27 18 00
Nico Ladenis died recently in France at the age of 89. Ladenis was a hugely talented, mainly self-taught and frequently cantankerous chef who made his name in several restaurants before finally opening what would become his three-star Michelin restaurant, first called Nico at Ninety before changing it to Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane in the Grosvenor House hotel on Park Lane from 1992 until ill health forced him to close it in 1998.
I will always remember Ladenis for several excellent meals and one conversation in particular. It was after a lunch in his restaurant, then in Great Portland Street. As I was leaving he joined me and asked me to walk with him round the corner. As we stood outside an extremely crowded McDonald’s he said with a smile, ‘This proves one of the truisms of the restaurant business: that the profit generated by any restaurant is always the inverse of the quality of the food that it serves.’ Nico Ladenis was an astute character as well as a fascinating chef.