“Good morning,” he lied. That’s the first and only line of an anecdote that made the rounds of Hollywood a while back. Make of it what you will.
Mornings are key in this town of ambition and ambiguity. And in the city’s main industry, showbiz, where you have your vegetarian egg white frittata and with whom, is currency. Here appearance is almost everything. Most mornings from 7 AM to 11 AM there is enough power in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel to jump-start every television set in north America. The first booth on the left as you enter is prime. The corners booths are the largest. And some over-achievers hold several consecutive breakfast meetings. Why not? The service is discrete and they keep the herbal tea coming.
For me, the rich and famous clientele in this utterly gorgeous dark green and salmon pink room cannot compete with the fascinating food. Movie stars are just folks after all, but the kitchen’s famous French Toast is a divine breakfast. What became a legend first: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s crockery busting fights in Bungalow Five, or the way the kitchen staff thickly slices sun dried cranberry bread, dipping it into freshly scrambled eggs and sautéing it in butter for extraordinary French toast. Sugar toasted pecans and banana cream are heavenly additions.You can almost bet on who the tourists are and who the local players are by what they order. Tourists like us are bedazzled by the multi grain waffles with warm fruit compote, apple butter and Vermont maple syrup, while discreetly stargazing. Locals dig into house made granola with fresh berries and low fat yogurt, while deciding what the world will be watching next year on TV and movie screens. In the late 90s, a two and one half year, one hundred million dollar renovation by its new owner the the Sultan of Brunei transformed the Beverly Hills Hotel. There is so much luxury: the furnishings were designed expressly for the hotel and evoke a feeling of 1940s glamour. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it was their model, and though much has been redone, they’ve kept the hotel the way it was. In this ephemeral society, the stars know the Polo lounge keeps the status quo.
The focal point of the Polo’s patio is a ninety year old Brazilian Pepper tree surrounded by tropical foliage. This ancient tree stands proud of its age in a youth crazed town. Although time has little meaning when you’re on vacation, you’ll know it’s Sunday when a Mariachi band plays and strolls under its branches during brunch from 11 AM a.m. to 4 PM.
The real history of the Beverly Hills Hotel is like the history of Hollywood, pieced together by gossip, memories of doormen, maitre d’s and faded registration cards. It was built at a cost of $ 500,000 in 1912 on a bridal path called Sunset Boulevard on 12 acres once owned by the Mexican government. When Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford build Pickfair, their home in the nearby hills and all the silver screen luminaries followed, they transformed the bean fields around the hotel into what has become one of the worlds most exclusive neighbourhoods.
It’s almost a surprise in this heady atmosphere to find food that is near great. No trip to Los Angeles is complete without this experience. I like to start lunch with tortilla soup, not just because I love the taste, it’s the presentation that sizzles. A large flat bowl is arranged with wood grilled chicken strips, avocado, green onion and shredded dry jack cheese. Into this is poured the luscious house-made tomato soup that has the snap of chilli.I’ll pass over the Beluga caviar with sourdough blinis, the cost of which could buy me a nice pair of Jimmy Choo sandals on rodeo Drive, and enjoy what California’s most famous for, Caesar salad. A huge array of perfect romaine leaves textured with kitchen-made croutons is dusted with the local favourite, Locatelli cheese. All this makes a crunchy bed for slices of tasty mesquite-grilled chicken. Taste is the key word here. There is something special about the taste of vine ripe tomatoes and lettuce that has been picked just hours before they land on your plate.
The dessert menu hits all the buttons, crème brûlée, cheesecake, lemon tart, but there is one that seems just right for the moment: an Astrology Trio –out of this world. A platter bears a celestial array of chocolate fantasies, milky way chocolate, hazelnut torte and truffles, moulded into astrological shapes. The stuff that dreams are made of. That’s Hollywood.
The Beverly Hills Hotel, Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90210
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.