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Review: Bubbles & Brunch at the Cookbook Cafe

BY Boon Koh
Published 21 April 2010
Our Review Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

A few days ago, I wrote about my experience at the Swiss Cheese Fondue Night at the Swissotel in London. While the fondue was excellent, the service and style was very stereotypical of a hotel restaurant. However, I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Cookbook Café at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane, and this… was a totally different experience!

While all hotel restaurants exist in some capacity to serve food to the hotel guests that come and go, the Cookbook Café at the Intercontinental Hotel strives to be a restaurant that’s accessible and friendly for everyone, catering to tourists, Londoners, families, or groups of friends alike. With its vast and spacious dining room with floor to ceiling windows, the Cookbook Café is a very bright and cheerful dining establishment, and in a very good location too at the corner of Hyde Park and St James’ Park.

I was there on a Saturday to try their “Bubbles and Brunch”, which takes place on both Saturdays and Sundays, and as you can guess, involve an unlimited buffet brunch spread as well as unlimited bellinis, juice, tea, coffee, and still & sparkling water. While there are countless other restaurants in London doing champagne brunches throughout London, the Cookbook Café stands out and offers a subtly unique dining experience which really makes it stand out above the crowd. There are common tables with spreads of starters and desserts in the middle of the restaurant, but hot main courses, which are part of the brunch, are ordered from the menu so that they are made freshly cooked and arrive at the table only when you want them.

The “market table”, which contained all the cold dishes and starters for the brunch buffet, had lots of choices, with a wide range of salads, breads, vegetarian dishes, cheeses, cold cuts (try the pastrami), and sushi and sashimi (the smoked haddock was excellent). On weekdays when the bubbles and brunch is not on, the market table is still there and a cheaper lunch buffet is available.

Next were the hot dishes, and there are three to choose from, which are changed every week depending on what’s in season and on head chef Paul Bate’s mind! That Saturday, it was a choice between rack of lamp with shallots, creamed potatoes, and garden peas; monkfish with prawn casserole and lobster bisque; or grilled courgettes, aubergine, and goat cheese tart. I had the chance to sample all three, and all of them exceeded my expectations. The grilled vegetables on a filo pastry tart were very refreshing, and very light too even though the vegetables had been grilled and drizzled with olive oil. The monkfish cheeks were tender and cooked perfectly, with a very delicious lobster bisque that I would have slathered on every other dish in sight if I was in the privacy of my own home. The best of the three mains was the rack of lamb, medium rare and still pink in the middle. I believe Paul Bate, the head chef, who was with us, commented that it was Romney Salt Marsh Lamb, one of the best lamb meat you can find in this country. Best of all, as it was a buffet, you can mix and choose which hot dishes you want, you can have repeat orders, and the best thing is that it arrives hot and fresh straight from the kitchen to your table.

After the very filling market table starters and the irresistible trio of hot main dishes, there was the small question of dessert, which turned into a big conundrum once I saw the dessert spread on offer. From cheesecakes to hazelnut brownies, from custard to profiteroles, I really did regret not leaving much room for dessert! Luckily, the years of facing the same dilemma time and time again has led me to evolve an emergency space just for desserts, and so the inner food writer within me felt free to sample a bit of everything. The custard was by the far the most intriguing, with a peppery taste to excite the palate. In addition, the cheesecake was absolutely spot on and delightful.

As some of you have noticed, I have conspicuously left out any mention of the unlimited free flow drinks! With the food being this good, I thought I would leave judgement on the drinks till the end of this review. There were free flow bellinis and bloody marys, and I did have a quite wonderful standard peach bellini, while others in the group were equally delighted with their blackberry or passionfruit bellinis. Coffee, for those who prefer a strong wake-me-up, was made with Union coffee beans, which are top notch and the perfect antidote for a hangover. My only gripe with the drinks was that it did seem to take quite some time to arrive, but it could be put down to the full house at the restaurant with virtually all the tables occupied, a testimonial to how far The Cookbook Café has come from its default stereotype as a hotel restaurant.

Verdict: While the Bubbles and Brunch certainly does not come cheap at £39 per head, those who love to have a long leisurely meal on the weekend in a pretty chilled out environment should seriously consider the Cookbook Café. With unlimited drinks and really top-notch food, it will satisfy both the foodie and the alcoholic in you, and I think if you enjoy indulging in food and drink once in a while, the Cookbook Café is good value.

Editor’s Tip: Intercontinental Hotels have been upgraded in my geek ranking as they have the Apple iPad at their concierge desk, strictly for use to help hotel guests, but if you dine at the Cookbook Cafe and ask nicely you might get to play with it hands-on and get a sneak preview before its official launch in the UK in May.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars
Cuisine: International, with strong British influences
Cost/Price: £39 per head for the Bubbles & Brunch buffet

More pictures from the Cookbook Cafe:

Address: Cookbook Café, The Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel, 1 Hamilton Place Park Lane, Belgravia/Mayfair, London W1J 7QY (Google Map for Directions)
Nearest Tube Stations: Hyde Park Corner Tube Station (3 minutes walk), Green Park Tube Station (8 minutes), Marble Arch Tube Station (15 minutes)

Booking/Reservation Tel: 020 7318 8563
Website: www.cookbookcafe.co.uk (only landing page)

Review article written by Boon Koh. Many thanks to Chris Osburn from Qype and Esther Williamson from IHG for the invitation to this complimentary brunch & bellinis event!