"Sunday bloody Sunday - a hotel brunch blowout in Smithfield"Review Rating: Reviewed by Matthew B
Echoes of 'a wafer-thin mint, Sir?' were ringing in our ears as we were quite literally groaning in the pub after our Malmaison brunch, our half pints looking absolutely enormous as our distended stomachs felt full to bursting like duck’s livers.
We’d been tipped off that the new Sunday Brunch menu was a substantial affair, so went along with an empty stomach to see what it was all about. On paper it looked like a blowout: soup, an all-you-can-eat buffet bar, then a main course followed by a pudding. If anything it seemed a bit daunting in a Man v Food type way, but we felt equal to the task.
The hotel itself sits on the beautiful Charterhouse Square, in a quiet corner of Smithfield, not quite so beautiful at the moment due to extensive construction work around the new Crossrail station nearby. The building itself is rather lovely and grand - a former nurses’ home - with the brasserie located in the basement. It’s a comfortable space, and sufficiently partitioned with dividing walls and dark upholstered booths to give a cosy feel.
Settling in we started with the opening course, a roast tomato soup. Perfectly nice, and sensibly served without bread. We also had a cocktail. Seven versions of bloody mary were on offer with differing combinations of vodka, gin and even sherry; I opted for a standard vodka combo, which had a light feel compared to some soup-like concoctions you sometimes get.
Next it was up to the buffet bar. The thought in the back of one's mind is not blowing your boots too early and picking lots of filling items. Having said that, I still took a slice of Spanish tortilla and a large tranche of pork and pistachio paté along with some nice salmon and capers. My dining companion took advantage of their selection of meats: some chorizo, hand-carved Iberico ham, and some home made piccalilli, a laudable idea but it was a bit bland.
In the interests of researching the range of buffet food being offered, we went up for a second visit. This time, we went for a waffle and a pancake respectively. The two gents serving us were more than happy for us to have whatever we wanted: ‘We just want you to feel good’, said one, which was nice.
It was at this point I got a little confused, deciding to have some duck and pork rillettes I hadn’t noticed on my first visit. I am laying no blame on Malmaison that I ended up eating a blueberry pancake with strawberries alongside a meat paste. The omelette bar was going to have to be skipped, along with the bread and the potato salad - tactical eating was now coming in to play.
By this point we had already put in our order for a main course. Sticking on a vaguely brunch theme I opted for corn beef hash with duck egg while my friend wanted to try their huevos rancheros. We had expected to give the nod to the waiting staff when we were ready to venture on to the main - as they had said - but they unexpectedly arrived as we were still troughing from the buffet, ending up with some double plate action going on.
The hash was fine, and the look of it reminded me of the haggis at the Wolseley. The huevos rancheros were quite aqueous and could have been spicier. If we had approached the meal from a different angle we would have been tempted by the roasts on offer: prime rib of beef or half a roast Normandy chicken with all the trimmings, but even we had to concede that was not going to happen on this occasion. There are also a few lighter dishes such as fishcakes and grilled swordfish with Provençales vegetables.
Now on the home straight we moved to the desserts. Considering the general approach to the brunch - large quantities of food - you may expect some relief at this point. Some fruit-based, light puddings maybe? Not a chance: sticky toffee pudding, crepes suzettes, hot chocolate with marshmallows and ice cream, or an ice cream sundae of a very creamy, honeycomb variety. After that lot it was definitely a case of ‘stick a fork in us, we’re done’. If we came back, and we are tempted, a more considered and sedate route through the menu would be navigated.
We made a conscious decision to eat as much as possible, and at £19.95 it’s a great deal, particularly for a hotel - an industry not generally known for its value for money where food is concerned. One of the mains would easily set you back £15 on its own in any number of ‘gastro’oriented places.
The menu is supplied as a mocked-up four page Sunday newspaper ('The Mal on Sunday', of course) with a picture of Monty Python's over-eating and exploding gastronaut Mr Creosote on the front page. It’s not going to appeal to everyone - salad lovers or those with a slight appetite would probably choose to go elsewhere.
We didn’t eat for the rest of the day.
Matthew B reviewed Malmaison Brasserie on Tue 26 Feb 2013