Deep within Claridge’s, hidden from even the most frequent guests, lies the only staff restaurant worthy of a Michelin star. Acclaimed food critic and author Tom Parker Bowles is given exclusive behind-the-scenes access at Muse, the toughest table in London to secure a reservation, despite opening 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

With its bare brick walls, smart, buttery-soft leather banquettes and gleaming open kitchen, Muse is very much a modern Mayfair brasserie. Staff are clad in pristine white T-shirts; a professional barista bar serves serious coffee and the lighting is elegantly expensive. There’s even a giant 200-year-old olive tree smack bang in the center of the room.

Then, of course, there’s the food. Being an all-day operation, freshly made croissants, French toast, shakshuka, acai bowls and Full English turn gently, as the day goes on, into vibrant salads, homemade pasta, wood-oven-baked pizzas, grilled fish and Thai king prawns. For pudding, the sort of patisserie that tastes as beautiful as it looks. But Muse is no ordinary restaurant, rather the extraordinary Claridge’s staff canteen, situated two floors below the lobby.

“This really is the toughest crowd,” says Head Chef Jorge Baumhauer da Silva with a smile. “They come here three times a day. All of them food critics. And they’ll let me know if they don’t like it!” He runs a brigade of 15 chefs, who start cooking breakfast at 5:30 a.m., then carry on throughout the day and night, feeding around 600 employees. His kitchen very much fits in with the Claridge’s ethos of promoting from within. “It’s all very exciting, as the general manager wants chefs to train down here and eventually go upstairs to the main hotel restaurants. We have kitchen porters becoming commis chefs, and see this as very much a training ground, an incubator for talent.”

And it’s not just the chefs they share with the main hotel, but ingredients too. The Muse kitchen uses the same meat and fish suppliers as the Claridge’s restaurants, as well as the patisserie. There’s a grab-and-go section for those in a hurry, with fresh sandwiches and juices, as well as the aforementioned barista, using a state-of-the-art Faema coffee machine that produces expressos, lattes and flat whites by the dozen.

It’s about as far removed from the classic restaurant staff lunch as you can possibly imagine. Rather than a bowl of dreary mush, quickly knocked up from kitchen scraps by some harried sous chef and wolfed down in seconds on their feet, the Claridge’s family sit in relaxed comfort. Some of the tables are filled with big groups, chatting away merrily, while others have solo diners, replying to emails or just taking a quiet break. It’s a place to decompress and relax, a welcome respite from the hard work upstairs. Equally important, there’s no charge for any of the food or drink.

The room has a palpable buzz, the sort of well-fed bonhomie that characterizes a decent restaurant. Claridge’s Culinary Director Simon Attridge looks around the room with pride. “Staff food is so very important. If they’re happy, they go out and deliver,” he says as I tuck into impeccable fish and chips. “The food has to be perfect to get the magic upstairs. For me, it’s the most important restaurant in the hotel.” In short, Muse is the beating heart of Claridge’s, as happy workers mean happy guests. “Staff are gold,” he goes on. “If you don’t care about them, then someone else will. I’m so proud of how people can progress in this kitchen. You really get a feel for future stars.”

Muse is the most democratic of places too. You’ll find Paul Jackson, the general manager, eating alongside his staff. “It was very important to me that people could eat here as many times as they wanted,” he says, “and I didn’t want any restrictions.” Jackson was one of the driving forces behind Muse and is palpably proud. “We just had to make sure the restaurant was amazing.”

Just after noon and things are getting busy. Pizzas fly off the counters, along with French onion soup, vegan calzone, lemon chicken escalopes, cauliflower cheese pasta, kimchi, antipasti and oozingly lactic burrata. Oh, and not forgetting raspberry pavlova and chocolate eclairs. Michael Lynch has been at the hotel for 45 years, working his way up to head butler. He’s charming and loquacious, but not a man to mince his words. “Muse is fantastic,” he says, between bites. “They love us here at Claridge’s.” He pats his tummy and laughs. “I’m a good advertisement for the food.”

The light is cleverly designed to mimic sunshine pouring through the windows, and the room has a bright, airy feel. “Having fresh fish every day is incredible,” he says, tucking in. “It’s very different from the old canteen.” And, because the cooking is of such a high standard and the choice so vast, staff don’t feel the need to go out for their lunch. Glenn Piper, Foyer and Reading Room Restaurant Director, says Muse has made all the difference. “A few years ago, people would go out over the road. Now, all my team eat here.”

It’s not just the daytime staff who are looked after but the equally essential people who take care of the guests, and hotel, during the night. There’s fresh food available through the wee hours, and full roasts on Sundays too. As ever, everything goes back to the team who make Claridge’s one of the greatest and best-loved hotels on Earth. “To be successful, you need good people,” says Attridge, gazing out over Muse. “Jorge does an amazing job, and I don’t have to worry about it. But as long as the staff are happy, then I am happy.” Wise words. Because Muse is not so much a staff canteen as a proper restaurant in true Claridge’s style. And, ironically, probably the only place in town where even those legendary concierges will be unable to bag you a table. @claridgeshotel  

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