We’ve dubbed it the ‘gastronomic tour of dreams’. Three weeks, three cities and some of the best dining experiences in the world. My chef Mr Smith has been invited to speak at a world food festival in Paris so we thought we’d continue our ‘research’ (that’s what he’s is calling it) in some of Europe’s other food capitals.
London is the next stop and while ‘The Grazing Goat’ is a fitting hotel name for our food adventure, it seems a little out of place in posh Portman Village, as does the idea of staying in a public house in a part of the capital that happens to have the largest concentration of five-star hotels in London. That’s until you walk in.
This impeccably furnished gastropub has the feel of a modern country manor with its warm and earthy oaks, vintage-style stools, an open fireplace, large suspended linen lampshades… I am imagining Ralph Lauren’s country home to look a little something like this. All that’s missing is a moose head on the wall – but wait, there’s a goat. Naturally.
Just as we notice that our massive, bulging suitcases are spoiling the lodge decor, a Clark Kent lookalike offers to take them up to our fourth-floor room, one of only eight. We’ve arrived early so we’re invited to have coffee in what’s actually the pub bar, but even this looks like Ralph’s lounge room. Others getting their morning caffeine hit include Central London professionals and creatives. We like this place. It’s relaxed and friendly (after all, it is a pub) but style and quality give it swagger.
New Quebec Street is just as manicured, dotted with the kind of small cafés and boutiques which are making Marylebone’s neighbourhood one of London’s most appealing to the Monocle-reading set. Hyde Park, Marble Arch and Selfridge’s are a few minutes’ walk from the hotel. As is the closest tube station, Marble Arch, on the Central Line. Trust me, in a city that almost entirely commutes by Tube, and whose populous defines social status by its TFL zone, this is the jackpot.
Before I get the chance to do my own ‘research’ at Topshop and Selfridges, Mr Smith reminds me that our room must be ready. Four flights of stairs later, we flop onto our crisp white-linen-covered super-king sleigh bed. Latté-hued wooden furniture, vintage lamps, a woolen throw… the room is understated and classy (yes, you guessed it, I’m visualising it as an extension of Ralph’s lodge). But the pièce de résistance is the oversized marble ensuite. My devilishly handsome but maintenance-free Mr Smith would be happy just with a tap, but the freestanding tub, industrial-strength rain shower, Leroy Brooks taps and Aesop products are not lost on me. Nor is our charming view. I vaguely make out people pottering about their apartments, just as a brief hailstorm covers Mayfair’s rooftops in icing sugar. Did someone tell them a weather girl was going to be here reviewing the hotel?
But we’re here to eat, and after dining at the Clove Club and Michelin-starred Ledbury, we have our third and final London dinner ‘at home’. The Grazing Goat promises these Australians some classic British pub grub. ‘Is the menu good?’ I quiz Mr Smith. ‘If a gastropub get the basics right – like burger, the fish ’n’ chippies and steak – then it’s a winner,’ he tells me. We’re chuffed that our friendly waiter remembers us from our coffee stop three days ago and we learn that the menu is seasonal, local and always changing. Let the games begin.
Obsessed with all things pickled and smoked, we start with the Grazing Goat house-smoked charcuterie and pickled vegetables. Next up is a dressed Devon crab which arrives with an equally generous wooden board of smoked meats. Rustic and beautifully presented, the dishes are dream fodder for Instagram photo, if it weren’t for the cosy mood lighting.
As I tuck into a comforting tomato-and-thyme-braised shoulder of West Devon lamb on a bed of caramelised onion and butternut pearl barley, Mr Smith tests the steak and chips. The thick, crispy chunks of potato are served in a ceramic cup atop a wooden board with the steak and oven-roasted vine tomatoes. ‘It’s great,’ chomps Mr Smith. ‘And the chips are gorgeous,’ he adds, before letting out a big sigh. It’s that happy kind of sigh you do when you come home after a long day. As for the wine, the list is strong, if slightly leaning towards the expensive side, coupled with 10 classic cocktails (I loved the British Cosmopolitan) and a small selection of beers. We’ve just eaten for Great Britain, but we’re already looking forward to breakfast. With our healthy appetites, the four flights of stairs up to our room are probably a blessing.
If supper is a cut above your average pub, then breakfast is paddocks ahead of most hotel restaurants with offerings including Bath pig chorizo with bubble and squeak and cinnamon-spiced plum and fig porridge with caramelised walnut and honey. You won’t find crystal chandeliers, white gloves, shiny cloches or hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at this edge-of-Mayfair establishment. And that’s precisely why we’d graze here again.