At the beginning of brunch at the InterContinental London Park Lane yesterday, someone from the hotel asked me if I’d ever been there before. A Park Lane hotel? No, not recently and not without a corporate event to attend. I imagine many London-dwellers are the same – generally when we want to go out to eat or drink, we don’t think of hotel restaurants or bars as a first option. Those lovely Qype people folks arranged for a small group of people to go to the Cookbook Café and find out precise what they have to offer, and to see if we should reconsider.
One of the massive benefits of going to a venue with Qype, apart from the company, is that you get the best service imaginable, lots of attention and often special access – in our case, Paul Bates, the executive chef joined us for brunch and talked us through the menu. The vast, bottomless bellini’d menu. That’s right, folks. Choose from five different type of nectar then add Crémant de Bourgogne, swirled together in a champagne flute til the cows come home. Or til 4:00pm, I suppose, when the brunch finishes.
You start off with the Market Table – a buffet which starts with a bread selection and cold meats, and homemade piccalilli and chutney. Then it explodes into more lunch-like salads (vast bowls of chickpeas, greek salad), fruit salad. There are pastries, juices and coffee of course too. Round to the other side of the table and it’s filled with local cheeses and sashimi.
:: Tuna Tataki ::
:: Lucious pepper salad ::
:: Seasonal preserves ::
While the group made a trip – or two – to the buffet, Paul chatted to all of us about the inspiration behind the menus and the cafe itself. As the name suggests, it’s inspired by cookery books and at first they used to faithfully reproduce dishes from the books that are on sale around the room. Nowadays they occasionally use some of the recipes for inspiration, especially when catering for events but create the menus themselves. On sunny day like yesterday, it felt bright and airy in there – well, air-conditioned of course. We were sitting up at the rear of the room, almost on a mezzanine level which would be great to book out for a big group. The diners were a mixture of a sloaney young crowd who looked to have been staying at the hotel, possibly for a wedding, couples, tables of ladies who appeared to be there specifically for the food and who were making numerous visits to the buffets. Can’t blame them.
:: Eggs Benedict ::
If you fancy something hot along with the Market Table, you can move on to the Full Breakfast option. Eggs any way, hash browns, bacon and sausages, potato cakes or a freshly baked waffle. Go for the waffle. Also available on the À la Carte, we shared plates of these and the American-style pancakes. The maltyness, the light crispy texture, and the plethora of toppings (chocolate sauce, maple syrup, that instrument of the devil that is clotted cream, fresh compote, waxy pistachios) made it my favourite part of the menu. Ok, of that part of the menu.
Sticking with the more traditional brunch items, we also ordered the eggs benedict and most of tried the Corn and Scallion pancakes with wild rocket and scrambled eggs, both very good with sunshine yellow yolks spilling out of the eggs which are sourced from Berkshire. Reducing food miles is a concern for the hotel – as Paul reasonably pointed out, food that is procured locally costs less, is fresher and is seasonal.
On to the lunch dishes. Yes, that’s right. We were only halfway through.
:: Pinkly perfect lamb and implausibly creamy mash ::
:: Gently spiced Monkfish ::
:: Courgette tart ::
I never would have guessed that I’d choose the vegetarian option as by far my favourite of these choices. Sweet roasted vegetables and buttery pastry. It even surpassed the lamb and duck-fat roasted potatoes for me.
To finish, we felt it obligatory to try the desserts trolley (that makes it sound insubstantial, or a chore – it wasn’t.) Ok, I admit it, I saved space. Here’s the plate I liberated (to share, honest).
:: Desserts selection ::
Clockwiseish from top left: Nutmeg creme brulee, hazelnut brownie, chocolate torte topped with praline and nuts, baked cheesecake, champagne mousse with raspberry jelly, Bakewell tart. I particularly loved the cheesecake, it was creamy without being claggy, and utterly moreish.
We finally, reluctantly left the table – though we’d dined for almost three hours, and moved off for a tour of the kitchens (photos on Flickr) exiting through Theo Randall’s restaurant. You can see some of the spirits in his backlit bar above – it’s somewhere I’d certainly like to come back and visit. It was named Italian Restaurant of the Year 2008 in the London Restaurant Awards and I’ll also be looking out for his book Pasta, coming from Ebury in June. We visited the 7th floor club and then said our final goodbyes before dispersing gradually back into the sunshine for the rest of the afternoon.
Yes, it was a treat but our experience yesterday made me reconsider looking into what London’s top hotels have to offer. The brunch at the Cookbook Café offers bewildering amounts of choice, with literally something to suit everyone. Take a group, get everyone to plump for the £39 Bubbles and Brunch option and linger for a Bloody Mary or Bellini fuelled catch-up session.
Thanks to TikiChris, Qype and the lovely Esther, Charles and of course Paul at the InterContinental