With the release of its first cookbook, Claridge’s reveals the secret recipes enjoyed by everyone from Queen Victoria to David Downton
It all began with a guesthouse on Brook Street. After expanding gradually over a number of years, the Mivart family sold their business in 1854 to a Mr and Mrs William Claridge, owners of a smaller hotel across the road. For more than a decade the business boomed and the property quite literally flourished through Brook Street, sprawling over a number of addresses, gathering momentum as it went.
Although for a while it was still known locally as Mivart’s at Claridge’s, it wasn’t long before the now prestigious hotel dropped the prefix, as socialites and royals from all over the world sought a room at one of Mayfair’s finest establishments. With the likes of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert regularly crossing its threshold, gossip would have it that on more than one occasion when a caller would request to speak with the King, the response was often “certainly sir, may I ask which one?”
The hotel closed for a period in the 1890s for a rebuild, redesign and refurbishment on a truly grand scale. The new Claridge’s boasted a number of additions including the Mirror Room, Ballroom, Reading Room and Foyer, which encompassed the original sprawling, 250-cover restaurant. And so to the heart of the celebratory new tome Claridge’s: The Cookbook, its first, co-authored by the resident executive chef Martyn Nail and food writer Meredith Erickson. From omelette Arnold Bennett and Cornish crab salad, to pineapple coconut tarts and lobster Wellington, the book takes you from breakfast through to dinner via some of the best-loved dishes and drinks from the Foyer and Reading Room, Claridge’s Bar and Fumoir, one mouth-watering recipe at a time.
When a caller would request to speak with the King, the response was often “certainly sir, may I ask which one?”
Sitting down to write the book’s foreword, Danish Michelin-starred chef René Redzepi sums up what has sustained the hotel’s longevity for well over a century. “I tried to distil what it is that I like so much about Claridge’s and why it feels like home to me, because it is very much the opposite of what I grew up with: luxury in its fullest, an extra-sized king bed and people everywhere to help carry your luggage,” he writes. “It really boils down to the culture of Claridge’s – that thing that only happens when a group of people work together every day in a profound way. The more I think of it, the more it becomes clear that what makes Claridge’s special is the people there.”
Martyn Nail, “the captain of this ship”, so writes Erickson, has been an integral part of the culinary direction at Claridge’s for more than 30 years (a rarity in the restaurant world), overseeing up to 2,000 diners a day, all while conducting an orchestra of special events. And you won’t just find the recipe to the perfect chicken pie inside, but also top tips such as how to go about hosting dinner for 100 people (or more).
Indeed, we could all do better by adhering to the hotel’s strict event rules: “Listen to the guest,” readers are told. “If they want a 20-course meal in one hour we believe them, which leads to the second rule. We never commit to something we can’t achieve. The meal has to come together in a complete way, from start to finish. Review the menu well. We have to be able to make a dish for 240 as well as we would for one. The expectation that people have when they come to Claridge’s is they’re the only one. And we like that. We want them to feel that. It is en masse but it’s not en masse. Every event to us is unique and individual.”
“Are we cooking a Christmas pudding or are we cooking a dream?”
With the festive season fast approaching, it is true that through the years the hotel has come to be seen by many as a beacon of Christmas celebrations. From who will design the famous tree (lest we forget Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana’s beautiful creation in 2013, and then again the following year), to the angelic children’s choir and the stockings left out by guests to be filled on Christmas Eve, the warmth is felt far beyond the kitchen.
“Are we cooking a Christmas pudding or are we cooking a dream?” So reads the inspiring introduction to the unveiling of the legendary Christmas pudding recipe. “The secret to this century-old recipe has been kept in the vault until now… the whole pastry team gathers around a giant basin to stir the mix by hand and make wishes of good fortune and goodwill to all.” From mince pies to cheddar and pear Eccles cakes, readers will get a taste of the festive season like never before and the chance to recreate them at home.
Everyone has their own story to tell, their favourite dish, their chosen table either in full view or tucked away in a cosy corner. The hotel’s artist in residence David Downton likes to sit at table number four in The Fumoir for his nightcap as well as to interview and draw.
“Claridge’s is Claridge’s, and everywhere else is everywhere else,” he says. “London’s grandest hotel guards her legacy but wears her legend lightly, her eyes trained on that famous revolving door, noting the next, the new (and the who is who). Here, the ghosts of Sir Winston Churchill, Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn converse with the tech billionaire, the Upper East Side maven and the indie designer who are checking in. At Claridge’s there is a continuum.” Cheers to that.