At the Table Festive Special: The Guinea Grill
‘Success is the sum of a lot of small things done correctly.’ – Fernand Point.
As one of Young’s 280ish pubs, places like The Guinea Grill tend to have a few common problems. How they do things, their sense of style, and which of the many definitions of hospitality they offer, are likely to be decided not by individuals, but by fun-killing nuisances like company policy, out-of-touch area managers and profit-centric budget constraints. In lieu of inherent characteristics of their own, these company owned and managed places can feel a bit unloved, like airport pubs. Sometimes they take on the spirit of their customer base like a parent living through a child.
This might mean a dearth of atmosphere in a transitory tourist pub that never serves the same person twice, or the frantic anxiety of the mostly dead City boozer, suddenly full when everyone finishes work next door, and sometimes, just sometimes, they’re something like the Guinea Grill. This is a pub largely frequented by the finance people of Mayfair, and as we all know, for them, the cup runneth over.
Arriving before my lunch buddies, I open the door, take a step inside and BAM, the place gives me a slap round the chops: It’s RAMMED. There are people eating pies and scotch eggs and chewing the fat enthusiastically all about the place. And as the rednecks say, it feels like everyone’s getting one tied on.
I squeeze in and order a pint. Next to me a gang of men in their mid-forties, wearing genuinely nice cashmere and sporting hairlines that must keep the Belgravia Clinic busy, are watching a sporting event I can’t make out on a mobile phone. My drink comes and they start shouting and jumping around. One of them, grinning maniacally, looks me D.E.D. dead in the eye, shakes a pulsating fist at me and aggressively whispers ‘fuck yeaaahhhh’. Ladies, Gentleman and everyone, welcome to The Guinea Grill at 3pm on a Tuesday. And, in the first of my patronising assumptions to be crushed today, never mind what I said about budget constraints, these guys must have spent 100 grand on Christmas decorations.
The Drake’s crew arrive and we order a Guinness, but halfway through decide the pub’s a bit intense and make our way across the room to the little wooden gate into another world. It’s still very loud and we are technically still in the same room, but we feel welcomed and looked after immediately, the consummate entrance to a restaurant.
The name of our booking is checked, our coats are taken and we’re led up a step towards the dining room. The doorman, dressed somewhere between a Beefeater and his Claridge’s namesake, has come inside to help (the Grill has its own entrance). He goes to put my coat in the cupboard and makes a (very welcome) joke about flogging it on eBay. The place gets better and better.
En route to the table we are led past the eponymous grill and a wonderful glass-fronted display fridge as rammed with huge bits of meat as the pub’s customers are awash with venture capital. Excitement builds. Working in a deli years ago, I learned that if you want someone to buy something, you give them some to try. It is clearly also true that if you want four people to order enough meat for eight, you just show it to them on the way past the fridge.
We sit down and I soak it all in. The room is full but not rowdy and it is both comfortable and comforting. Smart enough to make an occasion of things but not so smart as to make anyone feel out of place. Aesthetically (carpet and all) it’s an amalgamation of Rules and Wiltons, redolent of the living room of an aged, slightly dishevelled Scottish aristocrat, with a penchant for Christmas. There isn’t a roaring fire, but it wouldn’t surprise you if there was. Michael (who’s been before and knows the score) orders something for us all, but we can’t hear what, followed by a magnum of Crozes-Hermitage. Things are going well.
Glugging wine enthusiastically we’re all feeling at home when something wonderful happens. A man arrives at the table with a plate covered in glistening lamb cutlets, fresh from the grill. ‘I thought I’d better order us some’ Michael says. The way they flop on to our plates, with scant rigidity, tells me the cooking is perfect. There are three each, served as is, no sauce, no garnish and no cutlery required. They are exceptional. This neanderthal amuse-bouche is a deft touch indeed. What a simple and brilliant way to show, right from the off, the value the grill adds and to assuage any doubts (idiots like me might have had) about the competence of the cooking.
What follows is not only competent, but one of the meals of the year. Most extraordinarily, it will include a metamorphosis Ovid, Kafka and even Dynamo might be proud of. The service is efficient, charming, funny and makes the room feel warm and convivial, rather than like a slightly staid gentleman’s club from the 1960s, which it could. There might not be anything ground-breaking or original going on at The Guinea Grill, but goddamit, why should there be? What’s with the constant need for innovation anyway? The place is a lesson in achievable goals being as swift a route to happiness and success as any.
All the bits of our main course arrive and we’re in Dicky’s meadow. Two huge (cote de boeuf) steaks, grilled ox heart, calves’ liver and lamb’s kidneys, there’s so much meat on the table it feels like we’ve ordered the Hedge Funder’s meat platter for four at one of my beloved Turkish ocakbaşı. Sticking to what appears to be the rule of never innovating unnecessarily, our meat medley is accompanied classically, with confit potatoes (king of the chips), creamed spinach and all the condiments required to make my day.
After a while our sauces and sides run low, but the meat remains plentiful. It is this that induces the metamorphosis. Being able to, provides motivation enough and we order a fried egg each, a Cumberland sausage and a portion of haggis. The beauty of pupa to butterfly, Nature’s miracle process, is knocked into a cocked hat when TA-DAA, our spectacular lunch becomes the best fry up ever.
Eventually defeated, there is still meat left. Again like the ocakbaşı, they are quick and happy to box things up so they can be taken home. Our waitress clears the table and wonders if we fancy a pudding? There’s a new one today and she heads off to find out what it is. Might they fall at the final hurdle and we’ll be offered some tonka bean abomination? ‘Apple crumble,’ she says, ‘it’s apple crumble.’ I shouldn’t have doubted them. And neither should you. God bless The Guinea Grill. And Merry Christmas one and all.