db Eats: Davies and Brook
db’s resident gourmand, Lucy Shaw, heads to Daniel Humm’s Davies and Brook at Claridge’s for heavenly honey and lavender dry-aged duck, a silky Côte Rôtie, and milk and honey soft serve.
The concept: Davies and Brook at Claridge’s is a homecoming of sorts for celebrity chef Daniel Humm, the quietly assured, Zurich-born maverick who turned Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan into a three Michelin star venue and (in 2017) the world’s best restaurant.
Humm worked as a commis chef at Claridge’s in 1992, four years before Gordon Ramsay opened his eponymous restaurant in the grand hotel. Aged just 16, the experience must have been formative. Nearly 30 years later, Humm is back in London, and this time he’s running the show.
In a nod to Manhattan’s grid system, the Davies and Brook is named after the two intersecting streets on which Claridge’s resides. The restaurant opened to much fanfare just before Christmas last year, with Humm aiming to split his time between London and New York, spending at least one week a month in the UK.
The décor: The interiors are boldly minimal and incredibly zen. The giant leafless tree whose artery-like branches snacked up to the ceiling at Simon Rogan’s foraging focused Fera (the space’s last incarnation) is nowhere to be seen.
In its place are sumptuous olive green and grey velvet sofas and an intriguing collection of 40 photographs of Icelandic landscapes created specifically for the space by American artist Roni Horn, a friend of Humm’s.
Using the same design team as Eleven Madison Park, the pared back interiors echo those of its New York older sibling, giving the venue a reassuring familiarity and sense of unity with Humm’s Manhattan flagship.
The food: While the menu clearly shares an ethos with Eleven Madison Park, Humm is keen to use the restaurant’s London setting as an inspiration for his dishes. While this is very much a fine dining venue with Michelin ambitions, Humm isn’t afraid to have a sense of humour about his food – he serves CFC (Claridge’s Fried Chicken) at the bar.
Four courses from the à la carte menu cost £98, and are the best route to enjoying the most complete Davies and Brook experience at the lowest cost – the seven-course tasting menu costs £145. Dining with Wine List Confidential author, Douglas Blyde, we opted for the four course lunch.
Our feast began with an off-menu celebration of the seas served in three acts: ethereal scallop tartare and apple served in its shell on a bed of ice; a wonderfully intense scallop broth that was so meaty in flavour it reminded me of Bovril (in a good way); and a disc of sensational scallop and seaweed butter for slathering on warm croissant bread that looked like a pair of pert breasts.
Before our meal began in earnest we were given a tour of the kitchen to see where the magic happened. I was expecting to find stereos blaring and tempers flaring, but the scene I encountered was one of complete calm. So much so, it felt like I was watching the chefs at work on TV with the sound muted.
Wearing traditional toques, Humm’s brigade of young chefs silently flitted about their stations with the grace of Degas’ ballerinas. In one corner, a brace of ducks hung from hooks, dry-ageing for a fortnight before being selected for service.
Half-French half Sicilian head sommelier, Gabriel di Bello, poured us a generous golden glass of Krug Grande Cuvée, which we sipped while watching the action unfold, nibbling on moreish mini flatbreads piled high with salty Parmesan and earthy black truffle. It was one of those perfect unions that reminds you how satisfying food and wine pairings can be when done well.
Signature dishes: Fish fans should begin with the bass ceviche with avocado, cucumber and shrimp oil. The attention to detail Humm devotes to his dishes is exemplary. In this case, thin strips of avocado were artfully layered across the top of the ceviche creating a wave effect. The flavours were fresh, delicate and well balanced, harmonising rather than fighting for attention.
While I didn’t get to try it, one of the showstoppers on the tasting menu is the celeriac braised with black truffle, which is theatrically served inside a pig’s bladder and popped like a balloon at your table. No visit to D&B is complete without trying Humm’s signature dish: honey and lavender dry-aged duck with beetroot and sauce civet made from the blood of the bird.
Perfectly pink, its crispy skin was flecked with fennel and cumin seeds, peppercorns and other subtle spices that added an incredible layer of exotic flavour to the dish, elevating it into another realm. It was easily the best duck I’ve ever eaten. Head sommelier Gabriel di Bello is also a fan: “I’d kill and go to jail for that duck,” he exclaims while pouring a silky, savoury 2014 Côte Rôtie to pair with it.
Another unmissable dish is Humm’s playful milk and honey soft serve – a tribute to his native Switzerland and the flavours he enjoyed growing up there. Creamy, indulgent and fun, this sophisticated twist on a childhood classic proved that fine dining needn’t be buttoned up.
The drinks: In charge to the restaurant’s beast of a wine list is head sommelier Gabriel di Bello, formerly of Caprice Holdings. While his list already stretches to 1,800 bins, di Bello is keen to nearly double the size of the wine offering to compete with Eleven Madison Park’s list, which is a few hundred bottles shy of 5,000 wines.
He has already added a couple of Swiss wines to the list in a hat tip to Humm’s heritage, along with an impressive selection of Californian wines, including the 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages of cult Cabernet Harlan.
Old World wines are getting the most corkscrew action at the moment, particularly bottles from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Around 30 wines are available by the glass, though carafes are also proving popular.
The cocktail list is worth a look – my Celery Fizz offered a savoury twist on a sour that whetted my appetite for the feast that followed, while a lip-smacking, lime-laced 2017 Pfalz Riesling helped to cut through the fat of my foie gras starter.
While entirely unnecessary, di Bello’s theatrical opening of our 2014 Ampodium Côte Rôtie from Domaine Rostaing with a pair of white hot tongs added a dash of drama to the meal.
The wine itself was glorious: perfumed, peppery, and served slightly chilled down, it reminded me of how unsung the Northern Rhône is as a fine wine region, and the elegant heights the wines can reach when on song.
Who to know: Wine buffs should seek out Gabriel di Bello and get him to pick out some highlights from his Bible-thick list bulging with exiting names. Brilliantly monikered maître d, Billy Peelle, has been flown in from New York and, with his sharp suits and old school charm, adds a touch of transatlantic glamour to the room.
When not in town Humm leaves the restaurant in the capable hands of head chef Dmitri Magi, who deserves as much of the praise being reaped on the restaurant as Humm, modestly putting in the hard graft behind the scenes.
What could be done better: Not everything about our experience was pitch perfect. My foie gras starter was so relentlessly rich it felt like biting into butter, and the frantic jazz soundtrack should perhaps be replaced with something more soothing.
Last word: Davies and Brook is the most eagerly anticipated restaurant to open in London in over a year and it more than lives up to the hype. There is no getting around the fact that dining there is an expensive experience, but it is also a memorable and hugely enjoyable one with next level service and flashes of brilliance.
Humm knows that diners want to be entertained when the eat out, especially when they are paying a lot for the privilege, but the theatrical elements don’t detract from the food, which is very much the star of the show.
While you may need to befriend someone with an expense account in order to go, the restaurant embodies all that is exciting and exemplary about the London restaurant scene at the moment. It is all the more impressive that Humm has created such a refined and accomplished operation in such a short space of time.
Davies and Brook at Claridge’s, Brook Street, London W1K 4HR; +44 (0)20 7107 8848