Restaurant Review: Caxton Grill
The Caxton Grill, housed in the newly refurbished four-star St Ermin’s Hotel by St James’s Park, has long offered refreshments to civil servants of the subterranean variety. MI6 and MI5 operatives met contacts here in the 1930s, and during World War II Winston Churchill ordered that the Special Operations Executive (now the SAS) be formed here. Ian Fleming used to work in St Ermin’s – as did traitors Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, the latter meeting his Soviet contact in the hotel bar.
When we visited, though, there were no spook’s fedoras in evidence: it was fascinators all the way. Our visit coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation – held at nearby Westminster Abbey – and the dressed-up diners, high on their brush with royalty, created a cheerful atmosphere in the ostentatiously informal dining room (it has sofas, but not ones you can slouch on). Our party of four also grew more cheerful as we sampled the “velvet flight” of wines: three reds, chosen to contrast with and complement one another. One was punchy, dry and pungent; one rich and port-like; one soft and smooth – but the glasses and stand are unlabelled, so we immediately lost track of which was which.
We still hadn’t figured it out when, half an hour later, our starters finally arrived. They were excellent, though: my soup contained just enough truffle to turn its cauliflower base into something much more interesting. A slice of Scottish salmon with horseradish was pronounced excellent, and a pork dish with pineapple and hazelnuts was light and tender: the pork scratchings accompanying it were a nice touch, though the black garlic was lacklustre.
The starters, however, were the meal’s high point. I loved my courgette flowers main course, which came attached to tender, grilled baby courgettes, stuffed with goats curd and scattered with tiny blue edible flowers. After my breadless soup I did, however, wonder why vegetarians are assumed to survive without carbs – particularly when I gazed across at the monster burger towering before one of our group. My other two companions plumped for fish – salmon and halibut – and were surprised to find that both arrived battered. The quality fillets did not enjoy this treatment, and thus neither did their consumers.
We skipped dessert, mainly because the slow service had stolen all our time: by the time the £35-a-head bill arrived, the restaurant was deserted. Stylish, full of discreet corners and eerily empty, it would then have made a good venue for a spymaster to meet his latest contact. But the spooks have all fled upriver these days, leaving such restaurants to the politicians and their talk of media management and “swivel-eyed loons” (a quote reportedly uttered right across the road). It’s entertaining, I suppose, but where’s the glamour? Give me Ian Fleming any day.
2 Caxton Street, London SW1H 0QW
www.caxtongrill.co.uk; 0800 652 1498