Who: Calum Franklin
Where: 252 High Holborn (nearest tube Holborn, duh)
I'm guessing you know by now (even I know and I'm more out of touch than you imagine). Holborn Dining Room (under Chef Calum Franklin) does pies, really good pies; no no, REALLY good pies. Planning my trip to Holborn Dining Rooms, that's pretty much all I knew.
What else then do you need to know? First off, HDR is part of the Rosewood Hotel but as soon as you peel off the street to enter the hotel complex, the Dining Room is immediately on your left (with Scarfes Bar on your right) so you never really feel like you're in a hotel (which is clearly a plus). Second, the Dining Room also hosts The Gin Bar which claims 'London's largest collection of gins with over 500 Gins and 30 tonics,' (everybody needs a USP these days and clearly pies are not enough). Third, the style of the restaurant is that of a Grand Brasserie, (think Balthazar in Covent Garden), and servicing both the hotel and the public, it's large, something like 200 covers. Once again, you can feel the scale of the investment made.
The menu is extensive and generally a crowd pleaser. If you don't want a pie, you still have plenty of choice as the 'Roast & Grill' section offers up a range from beef burger (£24) to ribeye (£30) to Dover Sole (£44). I'm still re-adjusting to London restaurant prices, but it's hard not to note that add a portion of chips (£5) to the Dover sole and you're at £49, which will become £56 after service is added. Fish and Chips however can also be had for £19 as can a shrimp burger.
But the pie will be, for many, the reason to visit and really, full credit to Calum Franklin for this achievement. His pies are a testament to his reach for excellence and accordingly, HDR is doing for pies what Bubbledogs did for hotdogs. With Wiki informing me that pies have been around for about 2,500 years, for Calum to single-handedly jump start pies to be trending across both social media and real menus elsewhere is an achievement that has as much substance as one of his own pie fillings.
At the basic level, the formula is simple: get the pastry right, get the filling right, combine them in the right proportions, but how many get it wrong? And how many can reproduce that winning formula across hundreds of pies every day? As impressed as I was by the pie (which was very impressed), I was as impressed by a kitchen that could repeatedly and consistently deliver on that achievement. And while I can imagine, for example, my dad being aghast at being asked to pay £20 for a pork pie (they sell 'em for under a pound in Morrisons you know), Calum's hot pork pie with gravy (can I call it gravy?) has as much in common with a supermarket pork pie as a Rolls Royce does with a Dacia Sandero.
I had been so much looking forward to visiting HDR and I am pleased to say that it fully lived up to its pie-tastic reputation. The dining room was vibrant with an international clientele (and atmospherically lit such that good photographs of the food are somewhat challenging - I did my best is all I can say). While many institutions have claimed 'world famous pies,' HDR might be the first restaurant where that's actually true (and Calum London's most famed pie maker since Mr Todd first supplied pie fillings to Mrs Lovett). Staff were friendly, the sommelier gave splendid recommendations and you will likely leave your meal here extremely full up. Traditioanlly, Holborn had little reputation for its dining scene but with HDR, it now, finally, has a destination restaurant. Definitely worth a visit.
P.S. those who have known Holborn over the years will remember that just a few hundred yards down the road from HDR was the Melton Mowbray pub (which was refurbed in the summer of 2015 and subsequently reopened as the Inn of Court). This appears entirely coincidental and I am generally unaware of any specific or special link between Holborn and pork pies.