5 things you should eat at Holborn Dining Room

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It’s the glamour palace at the heart of the area they call Midtown


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A slinky, crepuscular dining room. Photo: PR

Grilled octopus

Head chef Calum Franklin (ex-The Ivy) operates a traditional British style menu here – lashings of rabbit, bacon, lamb and pork – which reflects the classical interior of the Edwardian building, previously the East Banking Hall of Pearl Assurance (quite a mouthful itself). Ever on a search for the perfect grilled tentacle, we began our meal with a hefty specimen that, while not quite as soft as butter, was packed with charred flavour and paired well with slices of English chorizo and garlicky pools of aioli.

Crab toast

As 8pm arrived, and the room filled up, the light slinky and crepuscular, it wasn’t hard to feel quite at home amongst the chandeliers, antique mirrors and opulent red leather upholstery, more intimate than such a big dining room should be. Service was efficient too, the plates arriving speedily. Next up was delicate white crab meat from Cornwall, perching on a creamy, textural mash of avocado dabbed with spicy bloody mary jelly. This small plate slipped down, glass of easygoing Verdejo in hand, sourdough lending its lightly chewy weight.

Grilled octopus. Photo: PR

Hake

For fishy mains you could plump for an old-school cod grenobloise (a sauce of browned butter, capers, parsley, and pieces of lemon) or a simple grilled dover sole. There’s also a shrimp burger that’s starred in a thousand Instagram posts, as well as sustainable options like pollock. Our choice of hake proved a robust fillet cooked just opaque (a moment longer and its flesh would have crumbled rather than flaked), the moistness factor upped by a whorl of briny seaweed mayo, florets of tender sprouting broccoli scattered about. We probably shouldn’t have ordered a side of truffle fries – but sod it, they went surprisingly well.

An almost medieval affair: the tasty curried mutton pie. Photo: PR

Curried Mutton pie

This was the masterpiece: Franklin is known for artful creations including pithiviers and a quintessentially British sausage roll. His new selection of pies are modern takes on that traditional dish. Current smash is a lamb curry number consisting of slow-cooked shoulder, potato and traditional spices. And yes, it’s a beauty to look at, a castellated, almost medieval affair, perched on bright chunks of mango chutney, all deep meatiness and tangy sauce. A side of cabbage with thyme and bacon added further earthy, fragrant, smoky notes, while a light New Zealand pinot noir kept the feel of spring rather than winter.

Chocolate fondant

“Slightly strange checked trousers that the waiting staff all wear,” mused my dinner date as we watched them buzz around, while we perused the desserts list, at first glance almost too clichéd a definition of English: sticky toffee pudding, treacle tart, rhubarb crumble. But they too are pleasingly contemporary takes: an airy lemon tart matched in heaven with a tokaji dessert wine, while flourless (is it really healthier?) chocolate fondant exploded with the slight press of a fork, a pleasing acidity offered by slices of blood orange and zesty orange ice cream.

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And a note on gin

Ginspiration. Photo: PR
With (apparently) the largest gin bar in London – more than 400 variations and counting – you have to begin proceedings at HDR with a libation. As is today’s vogue there are mind-boggling takes on the negroni in the section marked (perhaps not entirely truthfully) ‘Juniper-led libation and remedy.’ Ahem.

Torn between the classic and an innovative twist, we chose a tart Citrus negroni, which mixes Britain’s first single-estate gin Williams Chase GH, with a white vermouth, Cocchi Americano, and the grapefruity notes of Kamm & Sons. Yet our other choice, a Monte Negroni was the real bittersweet killer, with Manchester gin, a delicate measure of grappa, the Montenegro amaro liqueur (distilled in Bologna made using 40 herbs), and vermouth.

And don’t forget to have a nightcap in one of the capital’s most gorgeous bars, Scarfes, afterwards. There’s always live music: on our visit it was a beautifully mournful blues act, plus there’s a roaring fire, dimly lit bookshelves, and – yes, more superior (and pricey) gin cocktails.

Starters £8+, mains £16+. A good-value set menu of two courses is £20 pre-6.30pm and after 9.30pm. More info. 252 High Holborn WC1V.

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