Dining at The Grand Hotel in Richmond feels like a rite of passage event for a local. It simply needs to be done. Preferably, multiple times.
This oasis in a busy pub, the square room on the front right corner, is warm and inviting, with some familiar faces that have been here since my first experience almost a decade ago. Back then you needed to explain to many what a gastropub was, although I must admit the word still doesn’t really sit well for me. What it encapsulates, on the other hand, does it for me every day of the week.
Now, there are many gastropubs and a handful are probably better these days, but this was my first, and remains special. While the room is well spaced, there is hardly even room for the maitre’d to greet guests. Tonight we are close to the entrance, which isn’t quite as intimate as the back wall, but is still very nice.
There are minor hiccups on service such as not asking what water we’d like, and a bit of delay at certain times on ordering or food delivery, but what stands out is the down to earth nature of the floor staff, and genuine effort to help you enjoy your meal.
The touches you like and expect of good Italian such as olives, and bread with olive oil, are part of the experience. The pasta is homemade and we have to try at least one. We order the main sized venison and beef ragu with tagliatelle to share for entree. The pasta is al dente but on the border line of being too firm in the first few bites. Once the sauce has had some time to further cook the pasta, each mouthful gets better and better, with the richness and depth of flavour in the ragu absolutely delightful.
For main Catherine orders the duck and I get the goat which is a special tonight. We also share the zucchini and parmigiano as a side. My goat is stewed and the meat is delicious but such is the trickiness of goat that finding the meat amongst the bones is an adventure in itself. The potatoes, cherry tomato, and olives in the sauce are fantastic. The fried polenta is great to start but gets a bit heavy and I think soft polenta would combine better with the sauce.
Catherine’s duck was generous in size, basically a half duck covering the plate with a nice orange and juniper berry sauce, and semolina gnocchi. The duck is roasted, perhaps a touch overcooked, but still has plenty of gamy flavour. It definitely needed the side to balance some of the rich flavour, and the zucchini was nicely grilled. Given the duck was a touch dry it would have been better with some more sauce, but a good dish all the same.
We washed our main down with the particularly luscious Terre Del Barolo Barbera D’Alba 2010 from Piemonte. Sometimes I wouldn’t mention the full name, but this is as much a note for me as the review as I’ll be going out of my way to find this wine for the personal collection. That savouriness and body that I love in many Italian wines, along with fruit that is elevated when combined with food.
For dessert we tried to, but could not go past, the bombolini, which are crema pasticcera filled doughnuts with a side of caramel ice cream and honeycomb for some texture. They used to be filled with ice cream, but I like the new take, which is still perfect to share. Every component is well made and together this classical combination just makes perfect dessert sense.
Whilst in a pub (albeit a classier one than the usual), this dining room has a sense of luxury and elegance that is hard to manufacture. The food continues to be well above par, and the service meets the brief. The Grand continues to be an important part of Richmond dining.