by Azzy Asghar
It could be argued that the Maybourne Hotel Group has the finest collection of hotels in the UK. Among its ranks are The Berkeley, Claridge's and, my personal favourite, The Connaught.
Located in the heart of London’s Mayfair at the end of Mount Street, The Connaught is the perfect mix of contemporary style, classic English character and impeccable service which together create the ultimate in sophisticated elegance.
The most understated and discreet of the hotels within the Maybourne Group, in my opinion, certainly has the best restaurants in the collection – a not so easy to achieve accolade - Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and The Grill overseen by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
I first tasted Jean-Georges cuisine in the late nineties when he had the award-winning and fabulous Vong restaurant at The Berkeley. It truly was one of the most fabulously epicurean experiences to be had in London at the time.
However, on this occasion we were visiting the inimitable Connaught Hotel to visit the equally legendary Helen Darroze. Her third eponymous restaurant, complementing her outlets in Paris and Moscow, is the star of the show at the hotel.
The two Michelin starred, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, has reopened its doors after an extensive, full refurbishment and modernisation by Paris-based, interior architect Pierre Yovanovitch. The acclaimed chef’s creative vision has been realised in a bold reimagining of the dining room, kitchen and menu, with a stunning new Chef’s Table, show kitchen and dedicated Armagnac Room.
Passionately obsessive about the quality and origins of her ingredients, Hélène lives by the philosophy that the star of any dish is not created by the chef, but by the finest produce it takes to make it.
Each meal will now start with a seasonal consommé, to gently cleanse and open the palate and begin the dining experience. Guests will be able to choose dishes based on the provenance of each key ingredient such as Pigeon – Denbighshire Wales, or Cep – Scotland, even where possible, naming the exact boats that land the fish such as Turbot – The Ajax, Cornwall. Menus will also adapt more frequently to fully embrace the changes in British weather and micro-seasons.
Hélène explains, “Every dish I have ever created is part of who I am – not just of my work and travels, but also of my family and teams, past and present and of the incredible artisanal suppliers I have come to know and respect. Now with just over ten remarkable years in London, I have the opportunity to focus even more on the outstanding quality from some of Britain’s greatest producers and suppliers. Over the years they have become a growing part of the menus at The Connaught and perfectly complement my long-standing relationships with the finest producers from SW France. This refurbishment has afforded me a perfect platform to showcase them all now at their very best”
Art à la Table - Presentation too has not escaped her meticulous attention to detail. From the independent ceramicist Ema Pradere, who has been commissioned to supply the hand-thrown, consommé bowls that open each menu, to the globally iconic Hermes, who have supplied their Bleu D’Ailleurs tea and coffee service to finish Hélène has chosen historic design houses and small contemporary artisans with equal zeal, ensuring a bespoke, full sensory experience for each guest.
The Dining Room - Keeping with the historic integrity of the hotel, has taken cues from the menu and table presentation, and placed craftsmanship front and center. Reinventing the main dining room using deep hues and rich textiles, he has lightened the historic, dark oak panelled walls and created a modern light-filled, refined and cosseted space. Customised flooring adds depth and warmth; bespoke curved banquettes and chairs exude a flow of tactile colour in shades of soft pinks, tans and greens, upholstered in a mix of velvet and leather. A bespoke chandelier made of hand-blown glass with blue lacquered, wrought-iron adds a contemporary contrast, alongside the individual oak tables with dramatic, red, ceramic lacquered, metal bases. In addition, the two unique paintings by artist Damien Hirst, commissioned by The Connaught, have been reinstalled and sit on opposite sides of the restaurant as guests enter.
The Chef’s Table - Pierre’s work continues downstairs in the redesigned show kitchen which now boasts a newly installed Chef’s Table. Open to the kitchen and generous in space, pale oak panelled walls with bespoke Matteo Gonet lamps shine a spotlight on the customised pink, marble tabletop, set on a terrazzo dias and surrounded by plush armchairs. Seating up to ten, guests dine under a cobalt blue fresco commissioned by the artist, Rochegaussen. Menus here will differ from the main dining room, based on a sharing concept and will offer guests informal interaction with the chefs, as they personally present the dishes.
If it were the Connaught’s intention to stay, in tune with its very British character, discreet, restrained and out of the glare of other hotels in the area, the unrivalled cuisine of uber-chef Darroze shines on it a very bright spotlight that’s sure to blind all!