On occasion, I have landed in the lobby of Claridge’s Hotel, en route home after weeks somewhere back of beyond, tired and grimy, with a suitcase that looks like it got kicked by an elephant. But the peerless staff has never blinked; instead, I am always whisked upstairs to a hot bath and a soothing bowl of “chicken elixir.” This consommé has settled my constitution after bumpy long haul flights and nourished after meager meals in less fortunate circumstances. Trust me, it is not soup from a can.
Like many of London’s other grand hotels—Savoy, Dorchester, Connaught, Brown’s—Claridge’s maintains a dining tradition once favored by titled aristocracy and Golden Age film stars. (Queen Victoria ate here in 1860. Everyone else who wanted to be treated like royalty soon followed.) In the hotel’s art deco Foyer restaurant, formally attired waiters still swirl between tables draped in the starchiest linens, remove polished cloches warming emerald green bone china, deliver tiered trays of raisin-studded scones, spoon Cumberland sauce from miniature copper pots, steer a trolley laden with a large joint of English beef.
Even at my scruffiest, I have been wooed by this throwback glamor in an era when the majority of my dining experiences qualify as fast casual. So I was equally charmed when the hotel recently published Claridge’s, The Cookbook, co-authored by Meredith Erickson and head chef Martyn Nail, which codifies the dining room’s classical repertoire of game pie, lobster Thermidor, sole meuniére, and Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding. A shy man in a proper toque blanche who has presided over Claridge’s kitchens and larder for more than 30 years, Nail keeps a portrait of Auguste Escoffier in his office. His staff includes a tourier from Dijon and a juicer nicknamed Vlad the Reviver. Butter is handmade by a pair of Swedes known as the Buttervikings on the Isle of Wight. Hunters deliver red grouse and woodcock to his door. His tea guru sources the most rare loose leaf. He shares all of these appetizing details with us.
Paging through the chapters, beginning with breakfast kippers and ending with petit fours, is almost as good as checking into one of the David Linley-designed suites. The glossy photographs highlight plated dishes as well as back-of-house prep for signature experiences, including room service, afternoon tea, a dinner party for 100. We discover the proper time to hang partridge. The formula for a perfect tea sandwich: two-thirds bread, one third filling. The ritual mixing of Christmas pudding. Why shortbread biscuits are served at elevenses. A centerfold of classic cocktails, along with a bowl of puffed gougères, made me nostalgic for an evening once spent at Table 4 in The Fumoir, sipping saffron-infused Sidecars prior to a Philip Treacy show during Fashion Week. (I don’t always inhabit questionable back alleys; only most of the time.)
Perhaps what best illustrates this as an essential text, not just for cooking its old-school comfort food, but also for mastering modern British hospitality, is this passage on the art of carving:
"At one time a gentleman’s education would not be complete until he had mastered the art of carving. At Claridge’s, we see nobility in both the butcher’s and carver’s roles: as there is nothing to carve if the meat is not of good quality or hasn’t been cooked properly. Our advice to you about butchering meat is to defer to a local butcher whom you can trust, someone you can ask for the appropriate cut….But back to carving. Once or twice a year we hold a Carving Masterclass in our kitchen. It is booked almost immediately, and the guests are often husbands whose wives have sent them, or wives whose husbands have sent them, or wives whose wives have sent them, or husbands whose husbands have sent them: we all want a partner who can carve the roast as we raise our glass and smile across the table.”
Yes, we all do.
And while my home kitchen is not equipped to attempt Nail’s recipes for salmon en croute, hay smoked venison loin, or blueberry crème fraiche mousse—it requires professional pastry molds—I am pleased to learn from this book how to make one of the 164-year-old hotel’s best-kept secrets. Who cares if it takes five days? (Two for the stock, three for the finished consommé.) That elixir is finally mine.