The Capital Hotel,
22 Basil Street,
London SW3 1AT.
Tel. 020 7589 5171
Food type: Modern French
Food rating: 6/10
Nearest tube: Knightsbridge
Website: The Capital
Located a stones throw from Harrods and Harvey Nichols, the Capital hotel is one of the most prestigious boutique hotels in London and is part of the ‘Great Hotels of the World’. The hotel’s restaurant of the same name, headed by Eric Chavot, was at one time the only hotel restaurant in London to hold 2 Michelin stars. (This feat was subsequently achieved by Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley). Holding 4 AA rosette’s, the Capital Restaurant has won the award of Hotel Restaurant of the Year and Restaurateurs’ Restaurants of the Year in 2004.
First off, lets talk about the chef patron. Eric Chavot is probably one of the most underrated chefs in London. Part of this is because Chavot dedicates most of his time to the kitchen and rarely appears on TV. He recently represented the UK at a lunch celebrating the 25th anniversary of the International academy of Gastronomy in Paris and amongst the 120 guests there was French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Unbeknown to many, the French chef is responsible for the training of some cooks we hear about today – Gary Rhodes, Brian Turner and Jun Tanaka – just to name a few.
Chavot began his culinary training at the age of 17 at Lycee Hotelier (School of Hotel Management). Following that, he moved to England in 1989 and worked under the legendary Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saison. This was then followed by stints under other heavyweights like Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Pierre Koffman before opening his own restaurant, Interlude de Chavot in 1995 and then Chavot Restaurant in 1997, both of which held a solitary Michelin star. Then, in 1999, Capital Hotel came calling – they wanted a chef to cook in the hotel’s restaurant. Without batting an eyelid, Chavot took up the position of Chef de Cuisine at the Capital. Michelin came calling quite swiftly with a star that same year and a second one soon arrived two years later.
The decor of the L-shaped restaurant, masterminded by British designer Nina Campbell has a very classical feel to it. The fuschia pink chairs and wooden wall panels are gently illuminated by chandeliers dangling above you. Unlike most high end restaurants, this one is small, seating 33 people at any one time. Each table is decorated with a simple pot containing two fully-bloomed roses. The kitchen, located directly adjacent to the dining room with only the wall panel separating it, is close enough for you to hear the head chef fire out orders. Thankfully, things within the kitchen were civil and running like a well-oiled machine.
‘My favourite restaurant in London is a Thai restaurant. I also have an Indian and a Filipino chef working in my kitchen at the Capital, and I really try to incorporate influences from various international cuisines in my cooking.’ – Eric Chavot
Eric Chavot draws up a menu of appealing, French dishes. However, to describe his cooking as classically French is like calling a tangerine an orange. In actual fact, the food served here fuses flavours from around the globe with the precision of modern French cooking. For example, you will find quintessential French ingredients such as Foie gras on the menu of course, but they are given an international twist with the addition of Chinese five spice powder to the sauce. The menu is one of the cheapest for any 2 star establishment in London (and at times cheaper than some of the 1 star ones). A 3 course dinner will set you back £63 while a 5 course tasting menu is £70. The bargain priced lunch menu is £33 for 3 courses.
The wine list is extensive with good growers and includes wines from their own vineyard ‘The Levin Winery’ in the Loire Valley, France. Unfortunately, it is a pity that mark-ups are excrutiatingly high – almost 5 times retail once you factor in service charge. There are hardly any bottles under £50.
Bread was a choice of French baguette, brown or foccacia – all of which were made in house. These were overall of good quality and were well salted. Foccacia for example was light and fluffy with just a small hint of rosemary coming through. (7/10) Equally good was the brown bread which was soft with a nice crust to it. (7/10) The baguette suffered from being slightly chewy. (5/10)
Pig’s Head Terrine, Beetroot Jelly, Aioli
An amuse bouche of deep fried pig’s head terrine was served with aioli and a small cube of beetroot jelly. The terrine, bearing more than a passing resemblance of a croquette, was crisp with good pork flavour coming through. A hint of acidity from the beetroot jelly nicely cut through the fatty pork. The aioli had good garlicky flavour without overpowering all the other components on the plate. (6/10)
Seared Scallops Sauce Ceviche and Cucumber Jelly
Scallops were grilled, sliced and served cold with a deconstructed ceviche-style sauce consisting of cubes of cucumber and tomatoes. There was good citrus balance in the lemon and lime sauce with the cucumber and tomato jelly having a very intense flavour while adding an interesting texture to the dish. An unadvertised, but welcomed addition of a crispy soft shell crab sat beautifully like an open flower on the plate – its distinct flavour complemented by the ceviche sauce. (7/10)
The next dish – an assiette of force-fed duck- is one of the chef’s signature dish. It hails from the Arcachon region in Gironde where Chavot first worked. As expected in French cooking, no part of the duck is wasted. First was a ballotine of foie gras, featuring silky, smooth, perfectly deveined liver accompanied by a wafer thin herbed crostini. Next was a confit of duck thigh and gizzard with the iron coming from the offal a good pairing with the gamey thigh. Duck breast was prepared two ways – pan seared with a five-spice infused sauce and a melt in your mouth duck ham. Unfortunately the duck breast suffered from ‘rubber duck syndrome’, proving almost impossible to cut with the cutlery provided. Needless to say it was tough and chewy. Last but not least, was a second serving of foie gras. The oozy, creamy, pan-seared liver had bittersweet chocolatey notes enlivened by a sprinkling of the onion-like chives. Overall, this was a very good dish marred by the rubber ducky. (5/10, but 8/10 for everything else)
Roasted Monkfish with Caramelised Endives and Ginger
Roasted monkfish was timed correctly avoiding any chewiness which often plagues this fish. A crust of mixed spices including cinnamon and coriander kept things on the plate interesting – the meaty fish coping well with the strong flavours. A pineapple foam was a lesson for all young budding chefs as to how to do foam properly, although this did get swamped by the rich, buttery flavour of the caramelised endives. Hidden behind a spring roll were three medallions of saffron-infused potatoes which were a delight. (6/10)
Roasted Lobster with Chilli and Coconut Broth
Chavot’s submission at the 25th anniversary of the International Academy of Gastronomy in Paris was a dish of roasted lobster with a chilli and coconut Broth. Asked why he chose to cook the lobster dish, Chavot replied ‘It represents modern British cooking.’ The dish cleverly combines ingredients and ideas from various countries to produce a final dish which felt like a poshed up version of a Thai Tom Yum soup. For example, the lobster was roasted using the precision of French cooking techniques, accompanied by a lobster raviolo (Italian), enoki and shiitake mushrooms (Japanese) with a chilli, lemongrass and coconut broth (Thai). Again, timing was spot-on with a tender, juicy lobster. The fragrant broth was judged perfectly in terms of spicing without overpowering the lobster. (8/10)
Saddle of Rabbit “Provencale”, Seared Calamari and Tomato Risotto
Another of the chef’s signature dish, and one he has been cooking all the way back at Interlude de Chavot is an odd dish featuring rabbit leg stuffed with calamari, a rabbit-squid sausage if you will. Of course, the dish has evolved over the years to include every single part of the French rabbit. The loin is quick roasted, wrapped in its saddle with a force meat of thyme infused leg meat and formed into a neat parcel with crisp pancetta strips. Offal is presented as a kebab of kidney, liver and loin. Accompanying all this is a simple, yet intense rabbit jus and a cassoulet of white bean and chorizo which were cooked like a risotto. (8/10)
Fillet of Lamb with Cumin Jus and Spicy Couscous
Fillet of lamb came herb crusted and cooked pink as requested but was accompanied by a cumin jus which suffered from a heavy handedness in salt which completely overwhelmed the palate. Indeed, I have made the cumin jus at home before and it isn’t all that hard so these slips are inexplicable. This was rather unfortunate because the lamb itself was correctly cooked and melting tender. A spring roll of lamb shoulder and sauteed sweetbread with black kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes completed the dish. A side serving of ‘spicy’ couscous with raisins, pine nuts and shredded mint didn’t really have the heat it promised although it was pleasant enough. (5/10)
Cheese here is supplied by Bernard Anthony of Alsace. Unfortunately the condition of the cheese were rather poor. For instance, Anthony’s aged Comte (of the one year variety here) was far from its best and unrecognisable as Anthony’s. Other cheese tried include Charolais, Bleu des Causses, Tomme de Savoie and Langres. This was served with some grapes, biscuits and a very good walnut and raisin bread. (5/10 at best)
Coconut Ice Cream, Pineapple Foam
A small pre-dessert of coconut ice cream had good nutty flavour and bits of dessicated coconut without being too sweet. The pineapple foam had just the right amount of acidity to contrast the ice cream. (5/10)
Vanilla Pearls with Roasted Banana, Rum Pannacotta and Mango Sorbet
Desserts here seem to be the weakest aspect of the meal. A concoction of vanilla pearls and roasted banana felt like throwing different things together in a cup. While different components were well made (e.g. the mango sorbet had very good flavour) this was a lesson where more does not equate to a sum of all parts. (4/10)
Poached Apples, Apple and Lemon Grass Coulis, Vanilla Ice Cream
Better was a cocktail glass of poached apple balls hidden within a coulis of apple and lemon grass with a creamy vanilla ice cream and apple sorbet. The apple balls were soft while still retaining a little bite with good balance of sweetness and acidity. (5/10)
Petit fours were a selection of chocolate madeleines, coconut marshmallows, strawberry macaroon, nougat, raspberry jelly, cherry tart and chocolate and pecan tart. These were overall capable (7/10) although it slightly irked me that only one plate of the petit fours were brought out despite the fact that there were two us dining (meaning that we had to share a bite each). A further selection of chocolates were brought to us although I did not try any of them.
Service was pleasant enough throughout although wasnt as outstanding as other two star places such as Le Gavroche or Alain Ducasse.
Overall, the food was rather disappointing for a restaurant of this caliber. Some of the mistakes such as the rubber duck and the over-seasoned lamb were basic errors which is shocking at this level (and prices). Chef Eric Chavot was not in the kitchen when I visited which would be an explanation but not an excuse for these slips. While the food was at times interesting and inspired, I found the desserts to be more than an afterthought. On this basis, I think a score of 6/10 is just about right. Ultimately, because of the interesting cooking and flavours, I will still return, but I will be sure to call in advance to ensure Chavot is in the kitchen.