Hotel restaurants are tough to get right.
The space at the Hoxton in the Holborn is a perfect example of why – trying to create a cosy atmosphere whilst a constant stream of wheely suitcases make a racket just twenty metres away isn’t easy.
But Rondo, occupying that same space, has just about managed it. That’s in large part thanks to its most eye-catching feature – a wall-length wine rack, laden with organic and biodynamic wines from the restaurant’s extensive bottle collection. An open kitchen helps, too.
Read more: The best new openings in the capital
It’s the brainchild of Will Lander and Chris Gillard – the former the brains behind Quality Chop House, Clipstone and Portland, and the latter the former Head Chef of Clerkenwell institution St. John. The focus is on seasonal British cooking, matched by an innovative (and largely on display) wine list.
It shows on the menu – as autumn turns all the more frustratingly into winter, it’s very much country-pub-done-well, with braised swaledale lamb, baked aubergine and a warming lovage soup all featuring.
I start with snack-sized gruyere cheese straws, an upmarket version of the coffee-table classic, best enjoyed with a glass of Devaux champagne.
Starters have a touch of the St John: I opt for crispy pig’s cheek with watercress and sweet roasted shallots. The crumbled cheek is a delight – salty, biscuity bites, well matched with the shallots, and stonking value for £8.
My companion tucks into cornish crab with cucumber and sauer-fennel, which isn’t quite in the same class, the crab to things-that-are-not-crab ratio tipping slightly too far towards the latter. But it’s still a decent enough dish for £10.
Mains are in the same vein – chicken from Sutton Hoo, wild sea bass from British waters. The venison haunch sitting on a beautifully plated dish in front of me is perfectly pink, accompanied by sweet and sour red cabbage and swede. It wasn’t the finest slab of meat in the world, a tad on the chewy side, although the sourcing, as you’d expect from a Clipstone / St John tie up, is impeccable.
My companion’s sea bass is falling off the spine, wonderfully seared and neatly pair with a spicy mash-up of tomato and fennel.
All of this is accompanied by a 2016 Barbera from Piedmont, which offers the sort of bang for the buck you’d expect of high quality Italian wine. The wine list is accessible and fun, with just the right amount of info for either vinophiles or just those who want something to wash the beef down.
While some of Rondo’s dishes need a little fine tuning, and the space could do with being a tad more closed-in, it remains a fine choice for a winter dinner, with the potential to become a real must-visit.
Rondo, The Hoxton in Holborn. Reservations recommended.