|Last Orders||11 pm|
"Have London restaurant become so self obsessed that when my wife eat hardly anything of her main course the waiter, on automatic pilot simply said did you enjoy your meal?...............when the result was self evident. TR charges a fortune for this mindless service. Not wonder it seemed only hotel guests dining there."
"It was clear from the moment we entered the nicely understated dining room, welcomed with a big smile and unquestioningly moved to a table we fancied more than the one we were originally shown to, that this was a restaurant where the customer is king, something that was echoed throughout our meal. We hadn't realised that a tasting menu, albeit a shorter one than current in most other top-class restaurants, was available, and when we heard what was on this menu, which differed substantially from the set à la carte to take immediate advantage of the day's deliveries, we went for it like a shot. We chose the classic Billecart-Salmon rosé to begin, and, as my wife is foregoing red wine at the moment, discussed the best wines by the glass to match the various courses with the excellent and very knowledgeable sommelier, Marco, and, perhaps not surprisingly given the type of cooking, all three were Italian. The rosé went down very well with perfect bruschetta smothered with garlicky tomato and well oiled focaccia, and set us up for the generous antipasto of absolutely beautiful pan-fried scallops, capers, two kinds of zucchini, courgette, basil and full-bodied aubergine, with which we enjoyed a lovely Pinot Bianco from the Alto Adige. The lobster taglierini that followed was extra-special: fabulous lobster, cooked to perfection and matched by fresh chilli, striking Italian tomatoes and a tomato and basil sauce. Our broad smiles of satisfaction became even broader when the main course appeared: the massive, tender, Longhorn fillet really tasted of beef as it should be and came with an outstanding salsa verde, girolles and spinach. We drank a top Chianti Classico that was ideal with the beef, and it was all very Italian, unbelievable value, and stored at the top of the memory bank. Next up was cheese - not a supplement as in so many restaurants - a plate of four Italian cheeses, Robiola, Pecorino, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola dolce, all lovely, with a long flat sliver of good bread, and an amazingly adaptable Ronchedone, recommended by Marco, which was fine with all the cheeses. You could say that our dessert was the icing on the cake if it were not so inappropriate for the simple but brilliant Amalfi lemon tart with its perfect croquant pastry and the tart lemon superbly balanced by the mascarpone cream accompaniment. The whole meal was an absolute delight and really made up for the trying day we had had with delays on the train and with the hotel room. Theo Randall respects the traditions of Italian cooking, and he is a master of his craft, with a thorough understanding of ingredients and how to use them together in harmony, cooks properly and comprehensively, and serves at the right temperature, but does not hesitate to use new techniques if they contribute to achieving a better result. Like other top chefs, he is thoroughly charming and his relaxed yet expert approach is reflected in his excellent staff, and this brings with it a deep feeling of satisfaction in his guests. Even if he doesn't profess to a desire for (Michelin) star status, he certainly deserves it. This is the kind of venue that we find truly rewarding and to which we shall definitely return."
What are hotel restaurants for? It's a question that many hotels struggle with, especially in cities with vibrant restaurant scenes.
A haven of gastronomy is one obvious answer, so recruiting a 'name' chef is step one. For many years, Theo Randall headed up the kitchen at the River Café, so putting his name up in lights suggests that's the plan here. If so, this place, in the early days at least, is an abject failure. Only one dish out of eight sampled stood out, and that dish- an excellent carpaccio - unfortunately came at the beginning. Two plates of pasta were ho-hum. A generous main course portion of John Dory was on the verge of being overcooked, and a fish stew similarly failed to raise the spirits. Lemon tart - perhaps the ultimate 'critical test' dish - was too creamy truly to satisfy.
And prices are vertiginous. Our dinner for two, including two glasses of champagne and a bottle of pretty standard wine, would weigh in around the £200 mark. You can eat almost anywhere in London for this money, and usually much better.
But, you cry, surely the place must have other uses? Well, we couldn't see any. Dinner with your Mayfair mistress? Forget it: this cold and unflatteringly-lit dining room is as unromantic a location as central London affords.
Business, then? The tables are well-spaced, so at first sight this seems a runner. But the acoustics are poor and conversation - with the room at most a third full - was surprisingly difficult. And service, at least in these early days, is well below the level you might hope for.
It left us stumped. Hotel groups have so many resources at their disposal. Is that why so many of them continue to get their dining rooms so disastrously wrong?
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