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Only one thing to do with this Grill - give it a roasting

Published 18 December 2005
News Review
649th article

Michael and Julia feeling less than impressed at the Grill Room (Adrian Walsh)

I become attached to restaurants. Some are old friends. The atmosphere, the food, the staff - all become a pleasing part of existence.

Thus the Grill Room in Mayfair's Dorchester hotel enhanced my life for over 60 years. Now it's destroyed. Ruined. Violated. Savaged. Vandalised.

The perpetrators of this carnage are the hotel's general manager, Christopher Cowdray, and the grandly titled "Global Development Director, Dorchester Group", Ricci Obertelli. They've murdered one of London's loveliest rooms.

The new decor can generously be described as hideous beyond belief. The historic English menu has been transformed into ghastly, over-decorated rubbish. To ensure a triple whammy they've replaced many of the marvellous restaurant staff with gross incompetents. Quite an achievement to put on their CV - "2005: Took great restaurant and annihilated it."

The old Dorchester Grill was a marvellously kitsch re-creation of an 18th-century Spanish palace. The ceiling was ornately gilded and decorated. You expected to see Errol Flynn sword-fighting on the tables. The room was as one. It had character and style.

This has been replaced with beige walls featuring murals of enormous Scotsmen swirling whatever it is Scotsmen swirl. Tartan is predominant. There are red lamps on the tables.

A peer of the realm told me the place now resembled a bordello. I can't match the aristocracy on brothel expertise, but the red lamps look cheap. They remind me of a 1950s clip joint. A writer to this column complained it was a cross between an Angus Steak House and Disneyland. He was being kind.

Amazingly, the old ceiling, with no style connection whatsoever to anything else, has been retained. It's as if the hotel's owner, the Sultan of Brunei. didn't have enough money to finish the job.

Worst of all are the bright luminous red banquettes with tall studded headboards, and the shocking red curtains. This shrieking red is at odds with all the other colours.

Mercifully they haven't added extra tables so the acoustics are superb. You can talk about how awful the room is, how pathetic the service, how dreadful the food - and be clearly heard.

I took a highly intellectual young lady, Julia Stephenson, who was my constituency's Green candidate at the last general election. The only staff member I recognised was assistant manager John Wade. His old boss, Michael DiFiore, the best restaurant manager in London, is gone. Their superb number three person, Adrian Walsh, who'd been at the Dorchester 22 years, was leaving shortly after my visit.

A lot of new young men clomped about. One dropped a dirty knife and then a dirty fork onto the floor as he cleared our first course. Another plonked the wrong desserts in front of me and Julia.

The new chef is Ollie Couillaud from La Trompette. He's a total disaster. The Dorchester used to have a fantastic bread trolley with at least 14 loaves. Now there's just a modest basket with a diminished selection of sliced bread.

The menu is also smaller than it used to be. Julia ordered "smoked eel with egg yolk, raviolo, spinach and grain mustard hollandaise". She described the smoked eel as "overcooked" and "a little bit dry". She liked the raviolo - according to the Dorchester the single of ravioli.

I had crisp pig's ears and sweetbreads. The ears were sickly, the sweetbreads second best. I left most of it. Julia said if their rabbit wasn't wild she'd have partridge. "If the rabbit's tame we can aggravate it," I suggested. It was tame. Julia switched to partridge and liked it.

My grilled Dover sole was the worst food item ever presented to me. It was small, dry, overcooked and tough. There was bearnaise sauce with it. "That has a lot of tarragon," said Julia. "It goes with steak. You don't want it with fish." Since the sole was too awful to eat, the sauce was irrelevant. One small taste and I gave up.

The Grill Room used to have a staggering dessert trolley. Lots of scrumptious desserts, all tasting as good as they looked. That's rare with desserts. The trolley's gone, replaced by a limited menu selection.

Julia had the Valrhona chocolate dessert. Her plate was decorated with four items, laid out as if for a magazine shoot. Her white chocolate ice cream tasted neither of chocolate nor anything else. It was terrible. She described her chocolate flan as "quite floury". "Is that good or bad?" I asked. "Not good," said Julia. My sticky toffee pudding was clammy. I left nearly all of it. British Rail would have done better.

I asked for fresh mint tea. "Is the new chef saving on mint leaves?" I asked John as the teapot went back for more. I've never dined at a disaster level like this. Never.

Winner's Letters

Last week you were considering a facelift. One Priscilla Presley in the world is enough. Use more "Cowshed Bullocks" moisturiser. Leave the surgery alone. You have enough cheek already.
Linda Renner, Malta

Don't do it, Michael! It can only make matters worse. Think Michael Douglas. Think disaster! Settle for endearingly ugly. It's the style statement of a confident being.
Sylvia Elsworth, Lancashire

A facelift at your age would be as useful as a ball gown to a bag lady. You seem to be widening the age gap with each of your new female companions. if your hormonal periscope is swinging towards the lovely Ms Horn, pictured last week, then the only lift you should consider is a stair lift.
Barry Kane, Nottingham

I'm relieved to learn your libido is still very much intact. On seeing three girls having a smoothie you remarked: "I'd like to have one of those." That Cowshed Bullocks moisturiser sounds like potent stuff even when it's unopened!
John Simpson, Hertfordshire

Your assistant Jane Horn announced she thought all Chinese food was spicy. You like prawn crackers - which I've never seen in Beijing. You should come to China and learn. We could sample the eight regional cuisines in a couple of days.
Edward Burman, Beijing

Noticing the two girls with you last week, I must congratulate Katherine Connelly on looking so gorgeous. Any chance of an introduction?
Philip van Bergen, Berkshire

Having reduced the eating experience at Claridge's, when manager there, from stellar to mediocre, Christopher Cowdray is now wreaking similar revenge at the Dorchester. Their Grill was one of London’s last bastions of great English food. Now we’re asked to pay exorbitant prices for a menu of nondescript pretension. Breakfast is only sewed in the lobby where banquettes and armchairs are at different heights, making it difficult to look your dining companion in the eye. The service is tardy. My scrambled eggs arrived with a microwave crust and cold crumpets. I understand the wonderful Italian restaurant is to be no more. I've stayed at the Dorchester for decades. It's now time to get a serviced flat.
John Heyman, New York

Send letters to Winner’s Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk