Eating in glass houses
The Glasshouse restaurant at The Grove Hotel has had a swanky new makeover, so, quick out of the blocks as ever, Muddy rocked up to report back on the buzzing new-look hotspot for five-star foodies.
When I heard on the grapevine that The Glasshouse restaurant at The Grove Hotel in Chandler’s Cross was re-opening this May, after a major re-furb, of course I had to go and check it out for all my loyal Muddy readers – I know, I’m sooo good to you…
Just on the outskirts of Watford (not that you’d know it), The Grove is a veritable oasis. It’s easy to see why it’s known as London’s Country Estate as you roll along the sweeping drive, flanked by the perfectly preened golf green. If you’re after a dinner venue to make a heck of a first impression, The Glasshouse is it.
First opened just over 15 years ago, the new-look restaurant has had the five-star treatment, courtesy of award-winning studio, Martin Hulbert Design (who are responsible for much of the hotel’s achingly stylish décor – they’ve also decked out the likes of Coworth Park, Dorchester Spa and Cliveden, to namedrop a few).
As for the food, Executive Head Chef, Stephen Wheeler has returned to the helm of The Glasshouse after years of globetrotting, having headed up some of Asia’s best restaurants, and brings with him a wealth of foodie knowledge gleaned from his travels, from exciting fusion dishes to cooking techniques and ingredients.
The Glasshouse is far from other five-star hotel restaurants with their crisp white table cloths, lift music tinkling away in the background and (dare I say) stuffy atmosphere, where you daren’t clink your cutlery too loudly. No, no, no, the vibe here was buzzy and hubbub-y.
Pitched as a ‘theatre of food’ (which in real terms means a super fancy food hall), there are a handful of live cooking stations, all smoking and bubbling with deliciousness. And thanks to the buffet-style set-up diners are milling around, even chatting to each other (gasp!) about the culinary delights on offer. It feels refreshing, vibrant and exciting!
As for the décor, it’s just dreamy. While you might think twice about redecorating your house in mustard, brown and foliage green, trust me, it works here. By day, it reflects the colours of the gooorgeous gardens, which are artistically framed in the contemporary floor to ceiling (triple-height, no less) windows, giving it a real indoor/outdoor feel.
By night the colours take on a richer tone, thanks to lots of luxe materials – think mustard-hued velvet banquettes, elegant glass and bronze metallic sculptures suspended overhead (like giant mobiles for grown-ups!), and Italian terazzo and oak tables and floors.
Even the food stations are beautiful – there’s one sculpted out of a single piece of wood (butcher’s block of dreams!), collections of artfully displayed copper pans, a rustic pizza oven, a miniature (in comparison) glasshouse filled with meats and cheeses, high-tech looking glass-fronted cabinets housing everything from Asian mushrooms to spit roast duck, and a marble dessert island with a copper canopy.
SCOFF AND QUAFF
My husband and I are advised to start with the salad bar – forget soggy lettuce leaves and canteen croutons, this is a salad bar to end all salad bars. Along one side is an array of colourful hand-rolled sushi, giant prawns and oysters on ice. On the other, a deli-style counter with wheels of every cheese you could imagine and a leg of Serrano ham. Plus there are all manner of leaves, shoots and pulses, dips, dressings, breads and accompaniments to go with it.
Next stop Asia, and we each try a made-to-order broth – bursting with zingy aromas. Wondering if we’ll have room for a main course, my husband makes a beeline for the meat, and comes back with smoky hunks of tandoori fish and chicken (yep, they have their own tandoori oven, too), tender slivers of rotisserie duck and, for good measure, some beef from the grill – I mean, why choose one, when you can try everything?
Meanwhile I, the veggie, head to the pasta station, with its piles of golden handmade linguini, gnocchi and spaghetti and plethora of Italian ingredients for diners to choose from. While there’s not a wild array of specific options for veggies – if you haven’t already got it, they’re big on meat here! – you certainly won’t go hungry.
For dessert there are platters of exotic fruits, fresh sorbets and the prettiest pâtisseries. There’s even a chocolate tap, where you can experiment with creating your own cheffy drizzle over your ice cream (one for the big kids!).
The challenge with not choosing from a menu is knowing which wine to go for. We opt for a robust red at a resonable £34 a bottle, which covers the bases.
But, where the drinks come into their own is at The Glasshouse Bar – separate from the dining area, but with the same feel. If you like cocktails (who doesn’t?!) you’ll love the ‘Garden to Glass’ concept here, where ingredients sourced from The Grove’s own Walled Kitchen Garden are muddled and shaken into heavenly concoctions.
I plump for one from the signature list, the Rose Garden, with vodka, rose, lychee and pink grapefruit – a fragrant, sweet and sour sensation (ahem, I might have had more than one…), and sip it amongst the pots of orange trees, overlooking that fab terrace, and feeling very relieved to have worn the loose fitting dress!
GOOD FOR: Those with a sense of fun and a good appetite will love the lively atmosphere and plentiful offerings at The Glasshouse. It’s got all the hallmarks of five-star dining – from the quality of the food to the impeccable service – just without the rigid formality.
NOT FOR: If you prefer to choose from a menu and have your food brought to your table then The Glasshouse might not be up your street. But I urge you to give it a go…
£££: Dinner costs from £49 per person, which is pretty reasonable as five-star dining goes, particularly given the amount of choice and the fact that you can have as much or little as you like.