Byrne-ing Bright - The Dorchester Delights
Aiden Byrne is dazzling. He is enchantingly modest, outrageously creative, adventurous, and, he is very, very, nice.
If a personality is reflected in food then after a couple of plates of Aiden you most definitely want to meet him. A protégé of Tom Aikens with a dash of Heston Blumenthal, Aiden is one of the brightest young stars in the Capital's kitchen-constellation.
We went to the insanely scarlet, Scottish-kitsch, Highland-fling extravaganza Grill Room at The Dorchester and, although I found myself apologising to my guest for the garish décor, amusement soon followed bemusement. Besides, before long, culinary ecstasy engulfed us as we forked, speared, spooned, wined, and paced our way, through several mesmerising surprises, under the playful, artful, and expert eye of Daniel Pawelek, the captivating Restaurant Manager, or Maitre d'.
The service here is refreshingly unpretentious, spearheaded by the talented trio. The musketeers are a well-blended team, with Scouser Aiden at the oven, 'Polish and proud' Daniel on the floor, and Eastender, Jason McAuliffe, looking after the cellar. The end result is not just first-class; it's world-class. Do not fret if you pronounce the 'a' in Scallop as 'o', or if you confuse a Reisling with a Rhone, because these 'pro's' love passing on their expertise sans patronisation.
To the plates and divine wine...
With The Grill's menu you can be daring, safe, or both. If you enjoy unimaginable surprises, way beyond anything you have tried or dreamed of, then surrender to the trio. Alternatively, if you love the classics, such as excellent smoked salmon and perfectly handled Dover Sole avec béarnaise sauce, you won't get much better than here. Aiden loves cooking for 'himself' but, equally, he was born to cook for 'you'.
We started with chilled beetroot gazpacho with avocado sorbet and a floating surprise of hair-raising jellied Belvedere vodka, accompanied by a glass of Blanc D'Alsace. Next an exquisite array of pickings from the 'Secret Garden'; brilliantly coloured with Richard Vine's violet and ochre Nasturtium. Almost too eye-catching to eat, though we did, and the perfectly formed, plump pickled cockles, added a tantalising tartness to this extraordinary botanical beauty.
After this, a signature dish; Dublin Bay Prawns skewered in light batter on heavenly broccoli purée with ricotta dumplings and caviar. The notes are both sophisticated and pavement - exotic with a twist of local-chippy-salt-and-vinegar - resulting in an amazing assault on your expectations. We wedded this with a gloriously toasty Saint Peray, "Les Figuiers" 2005.
The savoury finale was supreme, a retreat to rural England, where a lip-sticking, 'marrowy' hot-pot is unbeatable; roasted hare with autumn vegetables and a little hot-pot alongside a bubbling cauldron of aromatic nostalgia. The meat was blissfully un-gamey, soft as suede, with a 'plate-lickingly' delicious reduction beneath slightly sweet, newborn vegetables. The wine was Côte Rotie, 2001: the memory will last well into this century.
Aiden is, characteristically, the cliché 'down to earth' though is anything but in terms of his wicked imagination, constant desire to inspire, and boyish good-looks. Not bad for a 'teen who left home aged 14. He said he lies in bed at night imagining what texture will work with what flavour and then takes his fantasy to the kitchen for a pre-run. His evolving passion and healthy obsession reminds me of a wholesome new sport, one we should take before the nation. Then I remember; television has indeed gone chef-stir-crazy and hoped that Aiden had not been spotted. Too late.
The dishy Dorchester has glorious suites and deluxe rooms with prime views over Hyde Park. Ours was no exception and the generosity of this Park Lane flagship does not go unnoticed in the bathroom either. Dining and reclining at the Dorchester is special. It is one of the few hotels where you instantly feel a squillion dollars, where mega-luxury surpasses luxury, and where culinary skills could eclipse much of the Capital. Alain Ducasse arrives at The Dorchester next month... say no more.