Shooting off this last set-piece in the Alexx in Londonland montage, I feel a twinge of nostalgic whimsy coupled with the sensation of watching a rolling epic grand narrative. Closing sequences of an elegiac movie play out whilst I lie, “beached in the offering of a private diary of deferred potential” as a puffed up tutor once put it in reference to a project I surfed around for some time before eventual completion in a series of water works; that is to say, writing based around the concept of water as a vehicle for expression. Those were heady days of cerebral, abstract and conceptual horseplay in the sticks of the shire of Devon and we were all young and helplessly hopeful, way way back in the mid to late nineties. We hop skip and prance our way from one scene to the next in the meandering story lines of our little lives. At best we can seek to determine the meter and stanza, leaving crucial aspects such as plot to divine or unseen forces. We can’t write the script because fate writes it for us; rather we might daub paint on the set, bash out a couple of rousing numbers, hoping with vainglory to get our names in the credits that flash past the viewer’s eyes at the end of it all.
Corinthia was the inspiration for this theatrically filmic musing, by virtue of the grand sweeps and ornate embellishments that characterize her interior, evoking vintage Hollywood stage-set glamour, which by the tiniest flick of a switch in the imagination can transform you from Dave and Sarah of Beckenham into Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, or Bogart and Bacall.
As with many of the places I am fortunate enough to muse about, one could easily argue such thoughts and expressions are essentially redundant, as accolades have already rolled in since their reopening as a luxury hotel in 2009. In spite of the pristine elegance it now displays, the restoration and improvements have been entirely sympathetic, in preserving the ornate fabric of the building as it was when originally built as the Metropole in 1885. The hotel became synonymous with high society living, hosting debutante balls and soirees that attracted many celebrities and eminent figures. However, on this occasion they let me in, to dine at The Northall, an exquisite restaurant space with a seasonal menu of British fare, impeccably sourced and prepared. It was a tough call initially when I was invited there, whether to dine at Massimo for Italian cuisine, The Lobby Lounge which serves an extensive selection of what are essentially bistro style dishes, or The Northall. Each option had distinct appeal, but in the end I chose The Northall, as I felt it would benefit my Canadian guest to sample the Epicurean delights of the British Isles. The menu also swayed me, as did reading the profile of the head chef, Garry Hollihead, who in his illustrious career has scooped as many as three Michelin stars.
Upon arrival, we were introduced to the sommelier, a dapper gent with a wry smile who didn’t once sneer at my oenological ineptitude (wine goofishness), and I certainly gave him enough chances. The Northall is a wine lover’s paradise, as they have an unique system of sealing each bottle to preserve it without oxidation occurring, meaning they are able to offer an extensive list of wines by the glass, coupled with the fact they offer tastings every Wednesday where they crack open the good stuff and spill the spoils of a hard day’s harvesting at a fraction of the usual cost. There are distinct advantages to having access to such a variety of wines, not least of all the ability to match specific wines to the dishes you’ve ordered. Furthermore, if a particular wine isn’t quite to your liking, they simply return it to the table and you move on to another.
As a serious devotee of the ocean and fruits thereof, I usually leap at the chance to eat fresh fish, hence the choice of Cornish sardines with smoked tomato sauce and soft herbs to start. Soft, subtle and rich at the same time, this dish had me from the off.
Slow-cooked concasse conveyed subtle garlic tones, matching the charred sardines to perfection, each mouthful evoking the sea, tempered with a fresh kick from the herbs, and perfectly matched with a Pouilly Fusse that cut right through the oiliness of the fish. We also shared a potted shrimp, accompanied by Macon Blanc; this wasn’t a stand-out dish for me but certainly put a smile on Alexandra’s lips.
The highlight for me was a this exquisite roast saddle of venison with poached pear.
This was seriously tender, gamey venison, dressed with a reduction that evoked the forest, our now familiar friend the mushroom once again putting in a guest appearance. I am now a fully fledged mycophile and proud of it too. It was a faultless dish, which our sommelier matched with a fine Chilean Pinot Noir.
This is as close to perfection as fine dining gets. Food is unfussy, yet prepared with finesse, and to exacting standards. Decor is immaculate, service flawless and the location inspiring. Although the hotel was kind enough to host me, I can certainly say I would recommend Corinthia without hesitation to anybody looking for affordable luxury, fine dining and one of the best examples of British produce and cuisine available in London.
Visit the Corinthia website.