Review: Garden Globes at The Dorchester
As restaurants were given the green light to open their outdoor spaces on Monday, Suzanne Baum stepped out of her comfort zone and into the real world
The night after the Baftas took place, I found myself experiencing my own golden globe in the forecourt of The Dorchester Hotel. There may have only been two guests in attendance (me and my husband) – but it was by far the most exhilarating and luxurious event we had been to in a very long time. I’d even dusted off an evening dress and had my make-up and hair done; my lockdown locks finally had some life in them.
The same can certainly be said for the throngs of people I spotted as I drove into Central London. It was as though – free from the chains of lockdown – there was a buzz of electricity in the air. The day may have been a cold one but it was full of the love and warmth of friends finally being able to gather in al fresco settings and get back some sense of normality.
For me, dining inside a globe at a five-star hotel is in no sense normal. But that is where I was beyond lucky enough to find myself on Monday night, inside one of two stunning globes situated in the forecourt of The Dorchester hotel. Having only just launched in December they had been open for just two weeks, before the third lockdown set in but – if you are going to step out in style on your first night post lockdown - this was by far the best way I could imagine doing so!
Just like the Baftas ceremony itself, my globe was full of the glitz, glamour and party atmosphere you’d expect from an international awards ceremony – just on a far tinier scale. With luxurious seats, cushions and throws - not to mention our own lights, heaters and music system - it was simply magical.
Experiencing our first taste of freedom, champagne and a menu like no other, I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I had often joked with friends (as we bemoaned the endless cycle of meals we had been making for our families), about what it would be like the first time we were actually served a meal, with food cooked for us. Would we weep when a waiter serves our wine, cry with excitement on being near another person or even, heaven forbid, pass out at another human being plating our food up. In this moment yes – I pretty much did all three - much to the embarrassment of my husband who was trying to play it cool.
Well, that was until none other than the hotels executive chef Mario Perera appeared outside our globe and then – be it the combination of wine, heating and sheer delight at meeting the main man, made him appear a bit flustered. He had after all gone from me, his wife of 23 years who claims to be the world’s worst cook to meeting one of the best in the world. And that is literally like going from zero to hero, the latter of which is the only way I can describe Mario.
Having been a part of the hotel for close to two decades, this cheery Sri-Lankan chef is not only passionate about his work, food and family but is also deeply rooted in the community – traits which saw him refuse to dwell during lockdown and instead turn his focus onto those less fortunate. With the hotels full backing and his team of over 100 chefs, Mario has spent the last year working on everything from cook offs with local chefs to raise money for key workers to preparing hot meals for local schools and families who are in need.
“My parents always instilled in me the need to work hard yes, but also to always look out for others and if this pandemic has taught us anything it is to do just that,” he tells me.
“We may be able to afford to eat but so many people can’t, some families are unable to even afford beans on toasts so to help them has been a pleasure.”
Having been promoted to executive chef in the summer, it must have been a challenging time for Mario I ask. “All chefs love a challenge, that is our drive, but the hotel means the world to me. It was my dream to be head chef of the Dorchester and now I am, I can’t believe it.”
While eating indoors is still off the cards until mid-May, the al fresco vibe is certainly taking off. As Mario and I chat, I can’t help but notice all the outdoor restaurants are full with people - an issue on which he quickly reassures me.
“Safety is of vital importance to all the hospitality industry,” he says. “In our hotel, every rule is being followed.
“We are lucky because our kitchen is huge – it is almost the size of eight tennis courts - so we can keep a good distance. The way we prepare our food is all done safely so customers can feel totally at home with us.”
From the cosiness of my globe, I would happily move in here for a long time as it is so beautiful - and the same can be said of course for the food. From a purple yam bread which tasted utterly divine to a plate full of fresh fish dishes served on a platter of edible forage, everything the chef served up to us was food perfection. It is also a work of art.
“We created this with a story too,” Mario tells me, as I gasp at the beauty of our second, or was it third course – a mixture of fresh fish prepared on a bed of ice and seaweed. “You can’t go to the beach so we have bought the beach to you.” I nod in total agreement. In fact, I am so happy to be here, never mind actually out, with the sun beating down on the globe, I have the holiday glow – okay, maybe the Veuve Cliquot champagne has helped a bit.
After a morning of snow, feeling the sun on my neck was a pleasure – and seeing the weather thaw made me think London is definitely heading that way. It has been such a difficult time for the hospitality industry and we must not forget the hard work and slog that has gone on behind the scenes. I’ve seen pubs put up domes outside their venues in a bid to make outside spacing viable and venues turning what is usually their bin areas into secret gardens.
As I leave the restaurant, or my safe haven of the globe, I learn that it has over 4000 covers in the next few weeks, with tables booked up for months. I can only hope this is replicated across the sector.
It goes without saying, dining out - albeit a very luxurious experience – left me feeling on top of the world. And on that note, I definitely reached new heights with a quick after dinner visit to the hotels new roof top terrace which has certainly set the standard high. With live music, stunning views and happy people – things are certainly looking up.
For more details, visit dorchestercollection.com