A few days ago, I was invited to an evening event at the Macdonald Burlington hotel, which I accepted with alacrity.
This was actually my second visit to this exquisite hotel and yet I was as entranced by the venue as I had been on my previous visit.
The Burlington is truly a sight to behold; polished marbled walls and floors lead the eye towards towering marble pillars which support high ceilings decorated with sparkling chandeliers, whilst gleaming dark wooden balustrades lead upwards to the equally sumptuous floors above.
At the vestibule entrance, the legend 'Macdonald Burlington Hotel' is picked out in shining brass letters and the hotel's emblem is proudly displayed. It is this same pride in their establishment which is reflected in the attitude of the staff, who seem to take pains to provide everything their guests could possible require, in both a courteous and timely fashion.
I was welcomed with canapés of feta cheese squares in dark chocolate baskets. It may sound a strange combination but the blended flavours worked really well, the sweetness of the chocolate offset just a little by the sharp tanginess of the cheese. The chocolate martini I was served alongside it, did an excellent job of warming my throat and getting me into the mood and by this time I was beginning to see a theme. Chocolate! The entire menu was infused with elements of chocolate!
For your delectation I shall list the menu here and my thoughts on it.
Starter : Pan seared wood pigeon with celeriac puree finished with white chocolate, balsamic and port reduction and roasted shallots.
Now I had a real dilemma with this course. As you may know, I rescue injured pigeons. And now there was one on my plate! I wrestled with the moral dilemma for a while and it was only resolved when I thought about the hens I used to have as pets. I loved these birds and cared deeply for them but I still went to the supermarket every week and bought a fresh chicken to roast.
You may think me a hypocrite, but for me, the swaying point was also that the pigeons were not battery reared or force fed but instead had lived a very natural life. Conversely, it would have been hypocritical of me, I believe, to have turned my nose up at the meat and then gone on to eat pheasant or some other bird. Had I been presented with veal or pate foie gras I would have refused as I consider these to be cruelly produced, but neither of these were on the menu.
The dish was beautifully presented, everything laid out so precisely it was almost a work of art. The meat was juicy and tender and the sauce was truly divine. I enjoyed every morsel. So far, so good.
And so onto the main course: Roast loin of venison with pickled red cabbage, roasted baby beetroot, sprouting tender stem broccoli with roasting liquor jus finished with 70% cocoa.
Now this course was sublime! I could have eaten two or three helpings. Each bite was different, the combination of ingredients contrasting and complimenting each other beautifully; each forkful tender and delicious, a crazy, heady fusion of flavours which pirouetted and danced an arabesque around my tongue!
Lastly the dessert : A taste of chocolate to include chocolate brownie, chocolate crème Brulee and vanilla ice cream.
The ice cream was tantalisingly smooth, whilst the brownie was sweet, warm and deliciously moist. I did not care for the Brulee but then it was made of white chocolate, which I don't enjoy. Technically I can state however, that the Brulee was well made, rich and creamy.
Although by now I was pretty full, coffee and little chocolates followed.
But the Burlington experience was not yet done. Having sated my appetite, it now teased my brain, treating me to a chocolate tasting session where a learned chocolatier informed me where the different cocoa beans come from and how they are used [more on this in another post]. Finally, I was shown how to make my own little chocolate truffles and given these in a bag to take home. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!
So what impressed me the most? The beautiful surroundings of the hotel itself? The warm effusive welcome from the staff? Or the exquisite food? In truth it was all of the above. It seems that its all just part of the Burlington experience.
Sitting right in the centre of the city, literally across the street from the train station, the Burlington is exceptionally well placed. This beautiful old hotel is steeped in history and I was informed that Winston Churchill once stayed there. Indeed it was easy to imagine his heavy footfalls as he ascended the magnificent staircase, perhaps thinking about his time in the War Cabinet Rooms or pondering decisions that had had to be made in times of duress.
Since those days, the fine traditional architecture has been updated with modern soft furnishings and fashionable décor but the building has lost none of its charm and this is reflected in how people react to it.
I looked wondrously at the people around me. In truth many of the guests seemed oblivious to the splendour of their surroundings, but what I did notice was that none of them seemed unaffected by the influence of the place - voices were softly raised in laughter and conversation was muted, as if a little of that old-time elegance had rubbed off after all. It was not hard to imagine ladies in flapper dresses and gents in tuxedos in these rooms, 'making eyes' at one another and perhaps because of this, an essence of olde worlde romanticism almost imbues the atmosphere with a sense guilty pleasure.
I never got to see the bedrooms but I gather these are equally sumptuous with all the modern conveniences we seem to require nowadays. Perhaps its just as well I never saw these rooms - as a writer my days are spent shaping characters and chapters into exciting circumstances - who could say where my fevered imagination might have led...
Even now, days later, a warm smile plays on my lips when I think back to that exceptionally enjoyable evening.
So should you decide to check in to the Macdonald Burlington Hotel, be sure to tell them Carmen sent you.
Until then - Happy Reading!