A nomad settles in London

NoMad oysters

The somewhat tortuous background to a new opening opposite London's Royal Opera House.

In 1998 restaurateur Danny Meyer opened Eleven Madison Park in New York. In 2006 he brought in Daniel Humm as chef and Will Guidara as general manager, who together proved a formidable combination. In 2011, Humm and Guidara, with the backing of a wealthy private individual, bought out Meyer and very determinedly set about making this restaurant one of the most admired in the world.

When the NoMad Hotel opened nearby, Humm and Guidara, via their company Make It Nice, agreed to manage the hospitality in the hotel as well, something they achieved with their normal aplomb. It was a very good restaurant which specialised more in comfort food than Eleven Madison – a dish of a roast chicken stuffed with foie gras and black truffles for two was one exceptional dish in the restaurant, while in the bar close by a hot dog smeared with truffle mayonnaise and topped with Gruyère cheese was a very popular dish there. Plans were advanced for them to do the same in other NoMad Hotels across the US and the world.

Then in 2019 the partnership broke down and Guidara left the company, a dissolution that did not stop Humm proceeding with his own negotiations with Claridge’s to open Davies & Brook in that hotel. This restaurant has now closed following a disagreement between the hotel and Humm as to the viability of moving this restaurant’s menu to one that used strictly plant-based ingredients, a policy now in place in Eleven Madison Park.

Meanwhile, plans to convert the Bow Street police station in London, directly opposite the Royal Opera House, into a hotel had finally got under way and it was announced that this would become a NoMad Hotel. This opening was delayed by COVID-19, which also had other consequences. Firstly, the pandemic was to lead to the closure of the original NoMad Hotel in New York, which will become a Ned Hotel in due course. Meanwhile, NoMad Las Vegas is now owned by MGM while the NoMad in Los Angeles is still mothballed. Today neither Daniel Humm nor Guidara nor their company is involved with NoMad.

So there you have it. A London outpost of what should have been a small American hotel group is today the only representative of a hotel brand that began its life on Broadway, although the chef here in London is Ashley Abodeely, who was the executive head chef of the NoMad in New York. The hotel’s general manager is the highly thought of Kate Levin, daughter of David Levin, who initially made the restaurant at his hotel, The Capital, so well known. Hospitality is in the very capable hands of Chris Perone, an American who came over to start up Davies & Brook and seems extremely happy to be living and working in the UK.

The entrance to the London hotel is very reminiscent of NoMad New York, with a doorman by the narrow entrance leading into a dark interior. The bar, off to the right, is a series of book-lined alcoves – similar to that in New York – but the overriding impression is one of darkness. I arrived at 6.25 pm on a January evening and could only just make out the titles of the cookery books on the shelves a couple of yards away.

But, as in New York, they mix a fine cocktail here. After a gruelling afternoon tasting young bordeaux, Jancis most uncharacteristically ordered a martini straight up. It is that sort of place. I decided to be more adventurous and ordered a Walter Gibson. This, a mixture of gin, vodka, sweet wine and vermouth, was created in 2016 by the NoMad’s then barman Pietro Collina and is named after the then wine director’s son. It is as potent as its list of ingredients suggests. We then followed the stairs, down half a turn to the restaurant’s reception and busy basement bar, before a further half-turn down to our table.

Our table in the corner, to the right of a chef standing in front of a massive grill/oven, presented an immediate challenge. It was far too dark. It was as though the management had adopted the American practice of making the interior as tenebrous as possible and then notched it down quite a lot. When we asked for more light, the waiter kindly brought another small table-top candle but this made very little difference. The table next to us, whose occupants had much younger eyes, faced the same challenge. This vast restaurant is located in what was the courtyard, where Oscar Wilde, the suffragettes and the Krays were first brought in for processing, and is covered in tiles, which adds to the noise and the cool draughts. Reading the wine list, written in small, black type, was virtually impossible even with the aid of the torch on our iPhones.

The menu presented less of a challenge, partly because the lettering is larger but mainly because we had seen most of it before. The menu here is very much a copy of what the menu at NoMad New York looked like: snacks, top left; starters, top right; mains, bottom left; and bottom right, two boxes headed black truffles, with risotto or tagliatelle, and underneath, the roast chicken for two. Deciding just what to order proved more difficult: the main courses seemed too large, the first courses not quite exciting enough.

In the end, I began with hummus and apricot harissa and Jancis with a dish of lamb tartare with charred aubergine and we both ordered the same main course: a starter portion each of tagliatelle with king crab and black pepper, the whole dish given a kick by the addition of Meyer lemon. This was excellent. As was the other snack we shared, half a dozen oysters whose creaminess seemed to be enriched, as far as we could tell, by the addition of pearls of frozen cucumber on top. (I think I must have used my flash to take the image at the top of this article. The general lighting level is more accurately shown below.)

NoMad tagliatelle

With two desserts, accurately described as chocolate and peanut and milk and honey, and two glasses of wine, Mullineux Old Vines 2020 and Valtellina 2017 from Sandro Fay, I paid my bill of £238.35 including the cocktails.

During the couple of hours we sat there, we mainly just watched. My notebook is full of scribbles which read either ‘very noisy’ or ‘extremely dark’. We watched the waiting staff as they lapped the extremely long path around the restaurant. We watched the groups of predominantly young women sitting at the other tables. And the noise made me forget about a letter that I had in my shirt pocket that I meant to discuss with my wife.

On our way home, I could not help but notice that this restaurant was far busier than almost every other one in Covent Garden on that night. Perhaps the winning formula that was so successful in New York may prove to be just as successful over here in London. Regardless of who is cooking, however well they have been trained.

The NoMad Hotel 28 Bow Street, London WC2E 7AW; tel: +44 (0)20 3906 1600. The restaurant, like so many, is closed on Monday.