September 13, 2021
The pandemic threw up more than a few challenges for Davies and Brook general manager Anneka Brooks. Adapting the restaurant’s refined yet relaxed service for which it has, in a relatively short space of time, become renowned was no easy feat.
“It all came down to reading each individual table,” she says. “We’re very lucky that the dining room is very open and airy, so spacing out the tables was simple to achieve. From there it was about adapting to our guests’ needs.”
A system was put in place after the first lockdown at the restaurant, which is located within Claridge’s hotel, whereby visitors of a more noticeably cautious disposition would have a single, dedicated server throughout their meal in order to minimise interaction with different contacts. Making guests feel safe and at ease was paramount, but the team’s masterstroke was how effortlessly they managed to marry this with their trademark non-stuffy front of house style.
“We spent a lot of time building confidence among our team so that we were all able to deliver that same comfortable and approachable hospitality, despite having to wear the masks,” she continues. “We would still smile for guests when we approached them, and make sure we spoke clearly and at a louder level in order to ensure our voices weren’t muffled by the face coverings.”
All this and more is why Davies and Brook won The Service Award at the 2021 Estrella Damm National Restaurant and was also the highest new entry on the top 100 list – coming in at number 13. The restaurant, which opened within the renowned five-star hotel in late 2019, marks the first project outside the US for culinary heavyweight Daniel Humm; whose flagship Eleven Madison Park (EMP) restaurant in New York topped The World’s 50 Best list in 2017.
Named after the intersection of the two streets Claridge’s sits on, Davies and Brook is a restaurant that takes pride in its precision – both in terms of its cooking and its service. ‘Fine dining dressed down’ is how the restaurant describes its style and the operation in the dining room is expertly choreographed but with a welcome lightness of touch.
“Our focus is on making sure the guest has what they need without having to ask for it,” says Brooks. “Do they want to have a lot of interaction with their server; or do that want more private experience with minimal interruption?
“There’s so much more to service than the technicalities of taking orders and bringing drinks. It’s the person who’s delivering that front out house experience and the connection they make with their guest: how they read the table, and how they adapt to the needs of their table. It’s about making sure guests feels comfortable, special and heard.”
While Davies and Brook might not go to the lengths taken at Eleven Madison Park with regards to table-side theatrics, a lot of thought is still put in to creating an elevated, dramatic experience for guests. The order of a fine red wine leads to a striking performance known as ‘tonging’ whereby port tongs are used to open the bottle – a process that involves the tongs being heated over a Bunsen burner and held against the neck of the wine bottle, which is then cooled with an iced cloth that allows it to break clean off before being decanted.
“Anything we do with fire, people are obsessed with,” says Brooks, with a smile. When the restaurant first opened, a tour of the kitchen and a snack also formed part the experience. However, like so many more personable elements, this was paused during the pandemic while the restaurant had to contend with social distancing. “Now we are fully reopened, we’re working on bringing back the kitchen tours, and other theatrical elements are gradually being reintroduced too.”
One area of the restaurant where theatrics will never be possible is on the outdoor terrace, which was opened as a result of the growing demand for outdoor dining and is where the restaurant serves a more casual bar menu of sharing plates. “We knew we couldn’t give the same Michelin-starred experience on the terrace, so we stopped and thought about why we were opening the space.
“Guests had been locked down for four months; they wanted to come and have an interaction with their friends and with us, so we needed to create an experience that catered for that. There was more informality to the service, which suited the surroundings, but we never dropped our standards.”
Brooks beams as she talks about her front-of-house team. “We have an amazing team who are so passionate about what they do,” she says, enthusiastically. Much of this she puts down the culture Humm’s Make it Nice company promotes globally across its restaurants.
“Honestly, I’ve never worked for a company that promotes such a healthy working environment. We want our team to be kind to each other. If there’s tension, you embrace it and talk about it. There’s no negativity or toxicity. We’re all here to boost each other and set each other up for success and be the best team we can together.”
Similarly to Eleven Madison Park, each service is preceded by a pre-shift line up, where both the team is brought together and encouraged to talk openly about their lives and learn about each other.
“We feel like the best line ups lead to the best services,” explains Brooks. “As soon as you can be open with your teammates and be vulnerable with each other, you become more open and start using those skills in the dining room to read guests. It helps the teamwork, and helps the service in turn.”