Each time I visit Malmaison in Charterhouse Square, the basement brasserie is always packed , even on a school night, and it’s rarely just residents. The hotel is in a film-set-perfect cobbled courtyard and a stunning historic house which oozes style. The last time was a Tuesday night and the entire restaurant is full, including the private dining room. I think this is testament to the fact that they go that extra mile to turn out great plates of seasonal, good quality well-priced food with excellent service.
The reason I’m here is because the hotel has launched a new menu at its brasseries and the hotel is hosting a blogger dinner to introduce some us to it. I’m late so come flying through the door to find everyone at the Veuve Cliquot bar at least two cocktails in. I have a Cosmopolitan which hits the spot immediately, I’m not sure if it helped that I hadn’t eaten much or that my heart was pumping from the route march from Farringdon tube. Anyhow the mix of Grey Goose Citron Vodka and Cointreau with a hint of lime juice, shaken with just the right amount of cranberry was a great start.
We’re led to where we’ll be eating and the only place it seems is free and where we’ll all fit is their business meeting room, complete with flip-chart.
As we are given the new menu I immediately notice there’s a new choice of starters, sadly my favourite steak tartare has disappeared, and in the Mains some welcome additions. I’m especially glad to see the Mal burger, which is one of my favourites, hasn’t been excluded.
The bar menu includes a new wine list headed up by the sommelier Johnny Walker. We had two two perfect wines – red and white – a Chablis and a Shiraz from Botham, Marrow, Willis. Yes, the Botham is a reference to the great cricketer Sir Ian who bought a vineyard when he retired. Apparently when he stays at any Mal he refuses to drink anything other than wine from his vines.
A platter of bread was left in the middle of the table, soft with a good crust, served with unsalted butter and peppery olive oil in a bottle. For once, the option to help yourself to more without continually asking for a thimble to be replenished is a welcome one.
We begin with an amuse bouche of goat cheese and red and yellow beetroot, and when the earthiness of the beetroot combines in the mouth with the creaminess of the cheese it’s a combination which never fails to please.
From the specials board, I started with the boiled hen egg and asparagus which was also a popular choice with the others. Perfectly runny creamy yolk with shaved asparagus cooked to perfection and standing soldier straight. Just a shame they didn’t think to give any of us a spoon. It’s not as if you’d want to leave any part of something that tasted that good.
Another special was the crab with avocado fritter and again I hear it was fantastic.
The prawn cocktail, shrimp and jumbo prawn cocktail looked good so too did the Scotch quail egg and bacon salad with piccalilli vinaigrette. There were also hot chicken skewers with a soy, chilli and lime dipping sauce and a smoked salmon blini and creme fraiche with caviar was another winner.
I shared a 550g Sirloin on the bone, and this, believe or not, has been split in two It was a hulking great piece of meat and I was given the lion’s share. I didn’t want chips (thank goodness I didn’t order any) and so I had a mixed salad – and this is what I like about Mal – the salad I wanted wasn’t on the menu so they made one up with green leaves, tomatoes and a little red onion. Sauces could be added for an extra £1.50 and there’s a wide choice from usual steak partners to a Gascon and aioli.
Here’s the sea bream with crushed potatoes, langoustine and crustacean oil again a choice made by the blogger next to me.
The blogger who ordered the burger couldn’t believe it’s size, although that’s exactly what 250g of ground beef with Gruyère and bacon looks like. I was sitting next to another blogger who really knows her burgers and has tried them all over the capital. She thought it was OK but said that the beef was packed far too tightly . This meant that each time she took a bite, the meat separated and fell away from the bun. Although that said the meat was of good quality and well-seasoned it doesn’t help the overall dining experience when you’re spending most of the time anticipating where falling boulders of meat will land.
Dessert choice didn’t fail to please, and the Valrhona chocolate tart was popular. My classic vanilla crème brûlée was superb. The sugar-crisp top is tapped open with a series of spoons and everyone agreed it was outstanding. There was a steamed sponge of the day with custard or ice cream and the artisan cheese slate with crackers and homemade chutney. For those of you who always feel too full to attempt a pudding there’s now something for you – an iced fresh fruit plate.
We were also offered an Espresso Martini which sounds like a recipe for disaster, it wasn’t, and a delicious end to the meal. I was also relieved that when it came to sleep I had no difficulty drifting off.