The Oriental Club (London, UK)

My primary reason for our visit to London this year was celebrating my brother’s 50th birthday in style. He invited people from a cross section of family and friends to descend upon London to toast, roast, and otherwise celebrate his 50 years of continued existence on this planet. The choice of venue was almost a given, since several years ago, Dan partook in two of the indulgences of a modern professional living in London: joining one of the City of London’s Livery Companies (The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals), and joining one of London’s Clubs, in this case, The Oriental Club.

The Oriental Club founded almost 200 years ago by a group of officers returning form India and the Far East, and, having elected the Duke of Wellington their first (and since, only) President, the club has been a private club offering dining, recreation, lodging, and other activities since. It’s one of London’s more celebrated and storied “Clubs”, having long prided itself on its dining facilities, having a formal dining room, two bars, and a kitchen that’s been serving up British, Continental, and Indian food for a long time (the Club has published Indian Cookery books back to the mid-19th century, and even has an ancient tandoor). Due to my brother’s membership, Carol and I have been his guest several times, and enjoyed several meals, but had not yet given the place a proper review for one reason: as a private club, they generally discourage photography. But for my brother’s event I was allowed to document the meal; while a special dinner, the overall food was representative of the other meals we’ve had there as well.

This isn’t your typically Offbeat Eats destination, indeed, this was a formal, white tablecloth affair (indeed, I even showed up with a vintage walking stick of my great-great-grandfather’s) with a splendid table service for 24, with the Duke of Wellington’s portrait gazing down upon us as we dined. For the menu, my brother had selected a nice cross section of the specialties of The Club, with an opening course of Indian street food, a main course of Beef Wellington (but of course!), a cheese course, and a dessert of crème brûlée.

The Indian Street Food opening course was a nice nod to the past of the Oriental club, with a samosa, a pakora, and a lentil fritter all served over a bit of yogurt and topped with a nicely executed mint chutney, this was an enjoyable start to the meal. The samosa was a perfect pocket of dough with a nicely-spiced chana filling. The pakora was similarly-well executed; my experience is that few things as as sensitive to odd flavors in cooking oil as a pakora, and this was perfectly fresh, crispy, and flavorful. The fritter was a perfect little disk of gram besan flour with some nice pepper spicing. Combined with a nice Gewürztraminer, I thought this was a perfect start to a celebratory meal.

Next up was Beef Wellington. Beef Wellington has always been one of my favorite formal dinner dishes, but it’s one that I don’t often indulge in. Particularly, it doesn’t scale well to small service; if you are making the dish, it is best made for a large group that prefers their meat all to the same doneness, so you’re taking one or two full tenderloins, coating them with duxelles, and wrapping it up with pastry for the finishing. It’s also a dish that rewards good temperature control, since you’re trying to get the meat roasted to the appropriate doneness while also not overcooking the pastry, and you pretty much need to instantly carve and serve it to prevent the pastry from sogging up with too much drippings from the beef. So, okay, enough on preparing Wellington… how did the Oriental Club’s version, served up under a portrait of the Duke himself, fare? They nailed it. This was probably the best Wellington I’ve ever had: the beef flavorful and cooked to a perfect still-pink interior, a rich, woody duxelles, and a perfect pastry maintaining a light crisp as it both soaked up the drippings from the roast and had some pan drippings poured over it. Add in some cabbage, some mash, and some celeriac, and they was a perfect main course, improved even more by a nice pairing with a pleasant Spanish Rioja.

The cheese course was enjoyable as well; a nice selection of walnuts, grapes, and softer cheeses, but as one of those lactose intolerant folks, I only nibbled a bit at the cheese course; Carol rather enjoyed it and proclaimed it excellent, and I defer to her judgement on all things “cheese”. The final course was vanilla crème brûlée, and those that have seen me enjoy one know that I’m just like the “Small Pleasures” scene from Amelie, delightfully cracking the top of my crème brûlée and chasing the custard around with little bits of broken sugar. Enough so that I usually forget to photograph it, like I did at the Oriental Club. But this was a fine crème brûlée: a smooth and creamy custard with a perfectly crisped and crackly top.

Like my other meals here, I really enjoyed this dinner, and especially the perfectly-executed Wellington. I will have to adjust my schedule, however, to come back during one of the club’s curry nights, and try to explore more of their Indian-influenced menu.

Alas, like a few other of the venue’s that I’ve reviewed here (like dining in Parliament at the The Strangers’ Dining Room), you’ll have to go out of your way to dine here; either as the guest of a member, or through an event. But I’ll have to say, their kitchen knows what it is doing, and it’s worth getting in for a dinner (or a cocktail) if you have an angle.

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