Review: Acanthus at The Randolph
Dinner at The Randolph: not exactly the most highly regarded option in the city, you might think, particularly for discerning locals rather than easily impressed tourists. “Stuffy”, you might say. “Outdated”, perhaps. “Overpriced”, almost certainly. However, these memories are just that – after The Randolph’s extensive and much-needed refurb, initiated after the awful (but thankfully non-injurious) fire in 2015, the décor has been rejuvenated, the menu has been reimagined, and the attitude of the staff feels far more up to date.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the kitchen certainly aren’t pushing the boundaries of gastronomy – fish pie, oysters and steak frites are all still firmly on the menu, and there is still, for the most part, a hushed air of reverence on entering the dining room. The real change, however, is in the pricing: dining à la carte at Acanthus is now only marginally more expensive than doing the same at the vast majority of shocking chain pubs nearby, and the difference in quality is immeasurable.
So, what to test the chefs on, in their new kitchen? A French onion soup (£6), surely? Hard to get wrong, perhaps, but this one is exemplary – thick, sweet strands of long-caramelised onion lost beneath a rich, brown liquor, topped with a Gruyère crouton just the right side of burnt. If it’s a warm day or you’re just feeling a little more adventurous, go for the pressed shin of beef (£8) – served cold, laced with smoked bacon, and balanced with sharp piccalilli and the crunch of sourdough toast, this is perfectly executed and generously served.
There’s now a welcome fish of the day option (market price), served with a choice of sides and sauces. My stone bass was perfect – pan-fried to its delicate, flaky best, with the clear winner of accompaniments being moreish creamed cabbage dotted with dry cured bacon and creamy lobster bisque. Elsewhere on the menu is a chicken supreme (£15), which whilst perfectly serviceable and keenly priced, doesn’t quite match up to the flair shown in other dishes – the black pudding ‘bon bons’ served alongside are a little dry, and the meat itself is unremarkable, perhaps a little underseasoned.
Still, these are trifling complaints in the grand scheme of things. Dessert picks up the pace again, with a vanilla cheesecake (£6) given the genius adornment of blood orange sorbet, and a dangerously smooth lemon tart (£6). Add a bottle of wine on top and you’re still keeping on the right side of £40 per head for a three-course meal, which is remarkable value given the prestige of where you’re eating. Acanthus also offer a pre-theatre three-courser for a remarkable £19 per head, and they haven’t scrimped on the dishes: pigeon, steak and fresh cod all feature. The hotel’s exterior may look the same, but on the inside things have improved tenfold. You’d be mad not to give it a try.
Related Articles: Review: Le Champignon Sauvage