As an elevator pitch for a restaurant concept, it’s possible that Ekstedt at The Yard might raise a few eyebrows: Famous Swedish open-fire chef Niklas Ekstedt opens his first UK restaurant in Whitehall’s Great Scotland Yard Hotel, a place that while not quite prison-themed, certainly doesn’t underplay its storied past as the former headquarters of the Metropolitan police. If there’s something that rings true for both the restaurant and the hotel, though, it’s a certain tension between the primal and the refined: in the hotel, which I found surprisingly charming, walls of darkly comedic paintings and Grayson Perry-ish ceramics by British prisoners; in the low-lit restaurant, an open kitchen that looks like a mediaeval blacksmith’s forge, but turns out dishes of subtlety and deceptive playfulness.
While so many London open-fire restaurants, from Temper to Smokestak, tend to lean into a certain straightforward smoky masculinity, there’s surprise and whimsy to Ekstedt’s creations here, which use some of the best ideas from his pioneering Stockholm restaurant. Think rich oysters cooked with beurre blanc, juniper and smoked apple, cooked in a flambadou iron cone with beef fat heated to 600 degrees; or a trout baked on birch embers, with charcoal cream and the roe of vendace, a white freshwater fish. Like the Swedishness, the fire-ness of the food is played lightly. While a gutted, google-eyed halibut hangs above the kitchen open fire in proper caveman style, the actual dish is a lovely gentle thing, charred just a touch around the edges. The tender hay-smoked goose feels pure Michelin, as does a Baked Alaska flambeed with aquavit at the table, while a long wine list leads to thoughtful pairings, including complex dessert wines from Hungary’s Tokaj region. On the day we visited, the kitchen was overseen by talented Swedish sous chef and recent MasterChef contestant Therese Andersson, who has followed her new boss for more than a decade. She’s clearly excited about the alchemy she’s performing with all that fire and heat – and rightly so. Toby Skinner
Address: Great Scotland Yard Hotel, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HN