Boyds Grill and Wine Bar review by Lawrence Hunt
Inhabiting the entrance to an exquisite hotel can be a blessing and a curse for a restaurant like Boyds Grill and Wine Bar. Coated in marble from floor to ceiling, this grand lobby looks like Caesar’s palace – in the tasteful sense, not the Vegas sense – and isn’t the sort of place tourists just wander into.
Once home to the Ministry of Defence, the space was no more than a stately breakfast buffet when the Grand Hotel took over, before being upgraded into a passable brasserie. The challenge faced by Boyd’s new manager, Fabien, has been turning this impressive decor into an experience worthy of its potential – and one that competes with the best of London dining.
Fresh from a string of Michelin successes in his native Paris, Fabien tells us he’s going for something a little lower key here – just excellent wine, mixed with carefully selected British produce. He makes his point by starting us off with a novelty incorporating both elements: Nyetimber, a citrussy champagne-style cuvée from West Sussex. The only one of its kind, apparently.
Fabien wants you to adore and agonise over his selection as much as he has. He’ll let you try a 25ml sample of any wine for £1.50, and boasts he’d rather open you up another bottle entirely than have you unsatisfied with the one you’ve picked.
Fabien’s devotion to wine is so religious and his knowledge so complete, in fact, that his entire philosophy to dining revolves around it. Our lesson starts with wine glass shapes. “If I had it my way,” he tells us with a grin, “you wouldn’t choose your food first. You’d look at what glasses are available to you, select your wines based on those – and then select your food based on the wine.”
He proves the point by giving us a large-bowled and a mid-sized bowl to compare our chardonnay. The science is quite straightforward – the size of the bowl affects the way the vapour rises, while the rim curve affects which taste receptors on your tongue the wine hits first. Of course, the order the flavours play out is still subject to personal preference – and that’s when Fabien starts waxing lyrical about how wine is simply “about memories, and what they conjure up for you”.
Sensing that we’re out of our depth, we put our faith in Fabien’s recommendations and are brought a series of starters to go with his selection of white wines. Our table is quickly filling up with glasses, and we have to polish off a couple before they can place the food down: a dish of flavourful salmon on a bed of cucumber and gin; braised lamb with tandoori spice, carrot and citrus purée – definitely the highlight of the starters; duck liver parfait, with fig and mandarin meringue, spread over a toasted brioche; and battered fish goujons.
The menu fearlessly mixes the finer elements with the more ‘dirty’ and depraved staples we’ve all come to love. As we move onto the main course, I’m delighted to see my beautifully lean Scottish Black Gold steak, rare as it comes, joined by a side of mac and cheese with BBQ sauce.
Meanwhile, impressing my dining partner Jack is basically impossible. As a lawyer, he specialises in pointing out the technical flaws in things, and by turns he found the wagyu beef burger slightly overcooked, the sweet potatoes slightly underdone, and the tearable parmesan frites too intractable for his liking. However, in another taste test from Fabien in which he thought a Croatian red was in fact Argentinian, Jack clearly demonstrated he hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about.
With three big ticks for wine, meat and service, Boyd’s already has my favour. But then Fabien pulls out the dessert menu and points something else out, something that almost deserves its own eulogy entirely: the Knickerbocker sundae bar.
We’re pulled from our seats and plonked down in front of Stan, a Cameroonian pastry chef who’s been spending the last several months eagerly perfecting his skill with a rather unusual ingredient: liquid nitrogen.
He starts us off with a super-cooled meringue that makes us breathe vapour like dragons for a couple of minutes, and then claims he can take anything and turn it into an ice cream or sorbet flavour. Depending on how much room you have left, £11.50 for this isn’t that bad a deal seeing as you can try as many of his concoctions as you like, before combining them into your perfect sundae with the various candy jars lining the counter. My suggestion: come here on a hot day this summer, just for the ice cream, and try them all.
We must have gotten through at least twenty-five flavours before we collapsed, some of them joyously topped with brandy: beetroot, olive oil, parmesan, bacon and thai curry being among the weirdest. Stan mixes a couple of new ones in the mixing bowls in front of us, and then as he clears away, empties a can of nitrogen onto the floor. It evaporates in mid air. He tells us 5 seconds of contact with the skin and your fingers need to be amputated.
Jack says he’s sick of the forgettable, £20-a-head eating out he does on a regular basis – he wants to stick to rare and remarkable treats. With Boyds Grill and Wine Bar, Fabien has turned this palatial bar and dining space into a big-hearted, experimental display worthy of Caesar himself. And as we look back over the evening’s proceedings, I’m pretty sure Jack’s impressed too.
For more information visit the restaurant’s website
Boyds Grill and Wine Bar review by Lawrence Hunt