Pull on your swankiest clothes, hail the shiniest black cab you can find and treat yourself to night out on London's glittering Park Lane.
Hotel dining is more often staid than stylish; you wouldn't get all dolled up to go and have Chicken Maryland at the Holiday Inn. However, some hotel restaurants are worth making exceptions for, the Hilton Park Lane is one of them. You can't help but feel important when men in tall hats and tails greet your cab as you pull up to the entrance (even if its only minutes from Hyde Park tube, it's worth getting a cab just for the experience). With its whirly doors and marble floors the Hilton's lobby is gilded, glamorous and buzzing with fancy folk. Podium is the hotel's restaurant and is situated alongside Trader Vic's, POP champagne bar and the main reception.
The ground floor Park Lane address feels slightly less swish once you realise that rather than overlooking Hyde Park like it's sister pad, Galvin at Windows on the 28th Floor, you are actually overlooking the hotel forecourt and a dingy office block. Saying that, the September 2007 £500,000 refurb has successfully revamped the previously-named Park Brasserie into an attractive, modern dining room with a palette of dark slate and citrus.
There is no getting away from the fact that Podium is a hotel restaurant. The mixed clientele gives the game away, brash tourists in bad plaid, rich young men in tight t-shirts and over-dressed seniors in tweed and the crown jewels, all put their own spin on the relaxed dress code. Get over that and you'll have a very nice time indeed. The staff, dressed entirely in black, silhouette around the room effortlessly, professional to the point of obsession are both polite and attentive. The dulcet tones of Dido and Corinne Bailey Rae grace the sound system and are the antithesis to the vehicular trump outside on Park Lane.
Now this is where the resemblance between Podium and your usual hotel restaurant blurs dramatically, as the food here is good, very good in fact. Although the menu is not extensive and both the ubiquitous club sandwich and Hilton burger are proudly visible, the Head Chef, Marvin Jones' (fresh from Gary Rhodes kitchen) seasonally-adjusted modern European menu is very appealing. Starters include a trio of scallops, scorched coins of plump, fresh shellfish are served on a smooth, earthy cauliflower puree, the sprinkling of sweet crispy leeks adding a tasty crunch. The seared tuna Nicoise is more than generous, the seared fish has an iridescent Turkish delight centre of a perfectly seared steak. The smoky, fresh taste melds well with the squidgy boiled egg, black olives and firm, waxy potatoes.
The mains are regularly adapted to seasonal variations, a wintry braised beef with celeriac puree comes as a deep dish of comforting beef stew. Melt-in-the-mouth shards of soft beef lounge in a rich and glossy gravy, the accompanying celeriac puree however, is deliciously creamy but too sweet, and after a few mouthfuls completely overpowers the beef. Lightly grilled lamb cutlets came pink, plump and perfectly cooked. The criss-cross of char-grill gives the lamb a faint smoky flavour, while the soft flesh simply melts in the mouth. Served with good, hand-cut chips, roast tomato and a tasty Bearnaise sauce, it's a fine example of a simple dish. For dessert the new season's toffee and banana parfait is just heavenly. The Mayfair version of banoffee pie has a soft, buttery biscuit base topped with a dreamy toffee mousse and finished off with caramelised banana and sweet cream. The warm fig tart is also a corker. A CD sized pastry is filled with fresh figs, baked and served with good, vanilla ice cream. The three course option is excellent value at £29.50, with no exceptions.
Podium also offers afternoon tea. Their signature tea menu is called Confessions of a Chocoholic. Podium’s chocolate afternoon tea is not just for those with a fondness for the cocoa bean, it is well-balanced, good value and a deliciously naughty way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Afternoon tea generally comes in the form of a selection of delicate sandwiches, followed by scones and iced buns. Here at Podium (for £19.50 or £25.50 including a glass of Pommery Champagne) you are served a personal platter of five open sandwiches which includes the all-essential cucumber and cream cheese, a lightly smoked salmon, prawn mayonnaise with baby gem lettuce, honey roast ham with a Pommery mustard and finally, the ever-comforting egg and cress. The main attractions arrive on a stylish deco silver cake stand which is filled to the brim with an array of heart-shakingly sugary goodies. On the first layer there are four (between two) warm scones, two chocolate chip and two raisin served with strawberry jam and clotted cream or a heavenly praline chocolate spread. For those who like to go completely over the top, top the chocolate spread with the aforementioned clotted cream and then take a lie down in a darkened room, for it is dangerously good.
The next layer is a selection of candy-coloured cupcakes flavoured with lemon, chocolate, blueberry and raspberry. And despite looking like something Willy Wonka has invented, each of the cupcakes is light and delicious and not in the slightest bit sickly. Then, for the cocoa-frenzied finale, on the top layer of the cake stand is Podium’s piece de resistance, a selection of handmade chocolate fancies. The white chocolate teardrop is a good place to start, a large whistle-shaped white chocolate shell is filled with a light vanilla and chocolate mousse, again the flavours are intense yet the finish is light. The chocolate parfait with real gold leaf is beautiful to look at and not unlike a very posh chocolate-filled Tunnock’s teacake. If, after all the sandwiches, scones and cupcakes, its all a bit too much, the waiting staff will happily pack up the rest for you to take home in a pretty hand-bag shaped box (sorry boys), perfect for breakfast the next morning.
The wine list is substantial enough to please even the surliest of businessmen, with the majority sitting between the £20 - £40 mark. The Italian Gavi De Gavi (£37) is a real treat; fruity, rich and with a hint of oak is great with fish dishes. House wines are a smidge over £20, but with some good varieties such as a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£26.75) for a few quid more, it's worth splashing out.
Afternoon tea selections include a dazzling array of Twinings teas. Choose from a selection of English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling, Assam or a jasmine or fruit infusion. Coffee fans are also catered for with lattes, espressos and filter coffees. If you want something a little stronger, try a chocolate martini or a glass of Prosecco or Champagne to help those pretty little cakes go down.
The Last Word
Podium is not just a good example of hotel restaurant, having one of London's finest addresses and situated opposite Hyde Park, it has endless opportunities for destination dining in its own right.
Take advantage of its good value three course deal or even the family-friendly Sunday lunch. Recommended.