When I see the inevitable Christmas meals being advertised, I cringe. They conjure up images of restaurants stuffed with “party” groups, eating standard Christmas fare, turkey, brussels sprouts, christmas pudding etc at inflated prices. I had spotted a toptable deal for a Christmas dinner at £24.50 for two courses or £29.50 for three with a glass of champagne at The Athenaeum, and I had my doubts. Then I thought why not, if I am going to have a conventional Christmas meal then I may as well go somewhere that should do it well.
So on the last Saturday before Christmas we trudged through the snow to the hotel in Piccadilly. We had a couple of good, if expensive cocktails in the bar and wandered into a near empty dining room, where we were offered our pick of the tables. The room is nicely laid out to offer a fair amount of privacy. Tables for two in the middle of the room include a small banquette arrangement, that almost forms a booth. Strangely it reminded me a bit of some of the first class seating/sleeping arrangements on long haul flights.
The service levels are exactly as you would expect in a first class hotel, which The Atheneaum certainly is. It is just smaller and more intimate than most, almost boutique like.
So what can I say about the menu. Was it limited? No, it most definitely was not. What a treat. Yes, it did have turkey in the Best of British part of the menu, but it also had a good balanced selection of starters and main courses, and several appetizing dessert options.
We began with an amuse bouche of watercress mousse and parma ham. Then for my starter I ordered the Pigeon with Girolle mushrooms wrapped in short crust pastry and my companion ordered the slow cooked ducks egg with ham hock. Both dishes were main course size portions, beautifully cooked and presented.
For main course we had Pheasant with braised red cabbage, and a perfect dish for a winter evening consisting of braised oxtail, that just fell off the bone, herb dumplings and winter vegetables. It was a large portion and I was just too full to finish it. I definitely did not have any room for dessert. However as coffee and mince pies were also part of the set menu, they finished of the meal nicely instead.
Normally the down side of this sort of deal is that the “free” champagne tends to be fairly mediocre fizz. Not the case at The Atheneaum. It was from a champagne house I know well from tastings at the Hide Bar. Specifically Ayala a small champagne house, owned by Bollinger. It was rather fitting – an almost boutique champagne for an almost boutique hotel. Quite stunning. We also had a reasonably priced bottle of El Grano, Carmenere 2009. A well balanced light red wine that had a smooth almost milky texture.
Perhaps it is my Scottish upbringing that draws me to “real” bargains like The Athenaeum, and it seems I am not alone in this, as on exiting the restaurant we spotted fellow Scot, Billy Connolly – the Big Yin himself.
I would be happy to have more Christmas dinners like this one. The Athenaeum is firmly on my list of return locations.