The Cadogan Hotel lies somewhere close to the soul of Knightsbridge: more than 120 years old, clad in Harrods brick and terracotta, and suffused with London history. Actress Lillie Langtry occupied the town house for years, and even stayed on in her own suite after converting the building to a hotel. Some say she still does. Just as famously, it was from room 118 that Oscar Wilde was hauled off to two years of hard labour.
We're willing to bet that Oscar wasn't "committing acts of gross indecency" over a medley of baby leeks and chorizo, but it's 2008 now, and this week the Cadogan has introduced a new tapas menu. The head chef plans to start afresh every month, but will follow a basic philosophy of combining equal parts Spain, France, and Italy, both in the food and accompanying wine. Sampling October's fare, we found it to be a mix of hot and cold tastes much akin to our recent weather. The tomato & basil arancini — Sicilian fried risotto balls — were comfortingly creamy, and the calamari was cooked to that difficult sweet spot of tenderness, flavoured with aioli and lemon.
Tapas are served in the drawing room, a quiet space hung with new paintings on loan from the Kings Road Gallery. Plates are priced at £4 or £8 with a glass of well-matched wine, making this a good way to soak up the Cadogan atmosphere without springing for a full spread at Langtry's Restaurant.
This may seem to be about six years behind the curve, but keep in mind just how devoted the Cadogan is to its classic British status: tapas represents a century's jump from beef tea and potted shrimp. Two possibilities present themselves. Either the hotel is changing its philosophy to keep up with the times, or tapas itself has passed its citizenship test, filling an empty serious-nibbles-with-wine niche in the British menu. From our seat in the drawing room, the latter seems more likely, and we welcome it with open arms.