A glistening folly
We were greeted at Crocker’s Folly by maître d’hôtel Juan Mckenzie. Juan is of Chilean – Scottish ancestry. He runs the dining room with charm and efficiency and prides himself on creating a relaxed ambiance that marries opulent traditional surroundings with meticulous modern service. A glass of Prosecco (£9) helped us appreciate that ambience and provided time to reflect on the buildings history.
Built in 1898 by local entrepreneur Frank Crocker, the building was originally intended to be a hotel. Crocker had heard that the then new Marylebone railway line would terminate at the site. No expense was spared; the bar top alone included 50 types of marble. Crocker’s dream was however short lived. Wealthy local residents ensured that the line terminated a mile down the road, and Crocker’s Folly was born.
The building successfully filled the role of oversized local pub becoming quite famous in the 1950s when cricketers from nearby Lord’s were regulars. Overall however, the story was one of graceful decline. The pub closed and the building lay empty for 12 years until Maroush Group, the current owners, took up the challenge of restoring the Grade II listed building to former glory. Rumour has it that £30 million was spent. A large Murano glass chandelier reflecting in wall size mirrors gently lights the main dining room; the tables are solid walnut; and the ceiling a testimony to the plasterer’s art. You can’t help but be impressed.
Starters ranged from £6:00 to £15:00. The Seared Scallops with Avocado, Tomato, Mango Salsa and Crispy Prosciutto (£14:00) looked good, as did the Cured Beef Tartar (£15:00), intriguingly served with a 68c egg yolk. But after some discussion we both went for the daily special, Beef Carpaccio with Truffle Oil and Shaved Parmesan; an elegant classic starter on this occasion topped with a Deep Fried Oyster. The truffle oil added depth to the slivers of beef while the crumb-coated oyster provided a contrast in both texture and temperature. A lovely starter that gently pointed towards the rich flavour of matured beef to come.
Chef Damian Wawrzyniak developed his skills working in some of the world’s finest restaurants including the multi-award wining Noma. The night was young and Chef Damian was casting an eye over the dining room; a fortunate event that resulted in a taster of Deep Fried Leek. The batons of leek were coated in a crisp tempura batter and served with smooth creamed spinach; a great combination that emphasized the fresh taste of the leeks.
It is not often that a piece of kitchen equipment features on a menu, but Crocker’s Folly devote a whole section to their aged steaks cooked on a Josper – a charcoal fired oven grill hybrid capable of reaching scorching temperatures while retaining moisture. My first encounter with one was in Kiev a few years ago. Over time they have become de rigueur in the best kitchens.
I chose the 330g 32 day old Josper Grilled Herefordshire Sirloin (£24:00), while my partner went for the Josper Grilled Beef Tenderloin (£26:00). Crocker’s Folly age their own beef. That enables them to keep full control of the process and plan menus that perfectly match flavour and texture.
The sirloin was served with a generous portion of roasted marrowbone, green salad and triple cooked chips. Creamed Spinach and Parmesan Puree, Roasted Shallots and a Red Wine sauce accompanied the tenderloin. A Green Peppercorn Sauce (£3:00) completed our order.
My partner’s judgment on the tenderloin was swift and uncompromising; “This is a seriously good piece of meat. Succulent, tender and full of flavour.” A nibble later I agreed. The combination of properly matured beef, Josper, and not least Chef Damian’s skills, had done their work. The accompaniments also gained praise with the overall comment that this was a nicely balanced meal.
My sirloin was equally impressive. Yes it was tender, but 32 days of aging had given it a deep rich taste.
Juan suggested Pablo Old Vine Garancha from the Catalunya region of Spain (£8:00 glass/£29:00 bottle) to accompany the beef. It was a good recommendation. The berry rich Garancha satisfied my preference for old school reds with a smoothness that complemented rather than competed with the beef’s rich flavor.
Puddings are a serious business and for many the best part of a meal. The choices looked good and we were struggling to decide. Juan came to the rescue suggesting we try a selection of smaller portions. What a splendid idea.
We had a chat with Pâtissier Ahmad Tarik Atie. Pâtissier Ahmad sees a meal as a journey. A journey in which there should be no gaps; no dead ends. The dessert should be part of a menu rather than something you tack on at the end. Everything served at Crocker’s Folly is seasonal and cooked from scratch. That is why the menu changes every month. There is also he explained, a focus on wellbeing. “This,” he said, “is 2015. People are thinking about their health. For me therefore, sugar is a seasoning, not the basic ingredient.”
The Apple and Blueberry Crumble (£6:00) is not the crumble your granny made. Ahmad has reimagined this classic pudding. Spiced apple and blueberry are cooked separately, formed into a small mountain and coated with an avalanche of crisp crumble. The fruit was perfectly cooked al dente. Served with a jug of egg rich freshly made custard, the contrasting tastes and textures are a wonderful way to end a meal.
The Summer Eton Mess (£6:00) is not a mess at all, it is a collection of summer berries capped with whipped cream and dotted with strawberries and small meringue. Traditional Eton mess contains a lot of sugar. Pâtissier Ahmad explained that in his re-imagination the only added sugar was in the small meringues. Additionally the berries had been frozen to change their texture and orange blossom water added to the coulis.
Lemon Tart (£6:00) served with Raspberry Sorbet and Summer Fruits married the clean taste of lemon with a thin layer of chocolate; a graceful plate that would be equally at home as a dessert or with a coffee. Lemon zest and less sugar were two of Pâtissier Ahmad’s secrets here.
The Vanilla, Popcorn and Baklava ice creams (£4:50) would be perfect for anyone looking for a light dessert. The popcorn and baklava have flavours more reminiscent of a bakery than a confectioner. Pâtissier Ahmad has his eye on the other corners of the kitchen with treats such as basil sorbet in the pipeline.
Dreams do sometimes come true, and if you are a chocolate lover there is no need to look further that the Chocolate Praline (£6:00). The Belgian chocolate mousse is smooth, creamy, not over rich. The praline adds a bite that just catches your taste buds in the right place. It really is tasty. Served on this occasion with raspberries in a coulis and mango sorbet. It was that tasty and delicious looking we jumped right in to try it and then realised we hadn’t taken a photograph!
Our favourite dessert? In the end it was a tie between the Chocolate Praline and the Apple Crumble; though we would happily eat them all again.
Follies are often seen as mistakes, but often what was originally imagined just didn’t work. Crocker’s Folly has been reimagined and works very well indeed. If you do two more things in your life go there, have a steak and a dessert. It won’t be folly.
+ Stunning surroundings
+ Excellent service
+ Steaks and desserts are destination items
– Bar area not as attractive as dining area
Mr Foodie Snr dined as a guest of Crocker’s Folly, this did not influence the review (well maybe after a few glasses of the good wine!)