WALKING down Oxford Street on a warm summer’s evening is like walking through Dante’s seventh circle of hell. I’m late for a dinner reservation at HUNter 486, a chic brassiere in a boutique hotel just off Marble Arch, and I’m feeling flustered, sweaty and the opposite of someone due to dine amongst the residents of a five-star hotel.
I suddenly experience London like a tourist might — the overwhelming swell of office workers and residents rushing and turning, pushing and prodding, trying to break through those lingering with their cameras who want to admire the sights and sounds of this busy street. Walking through the doors of The Arch is like escaping this hell, into — well it’s too obvious to say it. Not heaven, but at the least a luxurious and opulent refuge — chic contemporary art, gleaming leather and muted colours.
The concept of a restaurant within a hotel being a dining destination in its own right is, I must admit, a concept new to me. It brings to mind the idea of ‘friends with benefits’ — aspects of the relationship without the accompanying sleepover. It’s hard to get past the idea that I won’t at the end of the meal be able to loudly declare ‘charge it to my room’ before swanning off upstairs to my tastefully designed suite. This is particularly the case at The Arch, where the contemporary and cosy feel invites you to roll straight from dinner, into the elevator and bed down between their crisp, clean hotel sheets.
Alas, I must be satisfied with naught but a meal in this townhouse hotel. Named after the 1950s dialling code for Marylebone, the brassiere past the lobby is a light and airy space with a large window bordering the open plan kitchen — complete with its own stone bed pizza oven. Private semi-circle booths and long leather benches lend it an air of old, New York glamour and, in fact, in the adjacent Salon de Champagne there are even more secluded tables where diners can draw a curtain to eat completely in private.
We skip the array of cocktails available and settle straight on a deliciously light and fruity Pinot Grigio from Alois Legeder in Italy. The wine list covers a range of regions from mainly Italy, France and Spain, with a hint of Australia and South Africa.
It pairs well with the menu, designed by Head Chef Laurence Glayzer, formerly of Browns Hotel. The selection seems to aim for contemporasied English classics — with starters ranging from a duck terrine through to carpaccio of beef. We opt for smoked salmon — a delicate layer of fresh, thinly sliced salmon squeezed with lime, and a plate of hot green asparagus served with hollandaise sauce. It’s a delicious combination of flavours and the asparagus is the perfect marrying of crisp and soft textures. The waiter proffers an array of freshly baked bread as an accompaniment, with salty butter presented on black slate.
In fact, presentation seems to be a point of pride, sometimes outdoing the flavours themselves. The fillet of beef ‘Wellington’ is served up with a light lattice of puff pastry covering a juicy, tender thick cut of beef. It sits in a light broth of Madeira truffle sauce, and is accompanied by a pleasant mix of mushroom and foie gras puree. The restaurant’s signature dish, chicken “Hunter style”, is baked in the stone bed oven and served up with a hearty mix of button mushrooms, roughly cut tomatoes and tarragon jus. A side of mashed potato is whisked to perfection and deliciously creamy.
And then comes dessert. Ah dessert, I could dedicate a whole column to you. The chocolate fondant pudding appears artfully presented on a thin square of black slate. It is a literal melt-in-your-mouth experience, with the soft gooey centre oozing into the coconut flavours the icecream. Similarly, the other dessert, the Eton mess, is another exercise in indulgence and my first experience of this unique English mix of crumbled meringue and raspberry and strawberry coulis.
A plate of complimentary gourmet chocolates tidy off a satisfying meal. We may not be bedding down in the comfort in the rooms upstairs, but at least we get the ‘after-dinner’ pillow mints.
HUNter 486 Brasserie, The Arch London, 50 Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7FD. See Thearchlondon.com for reservations.