Joël Antunès is a great chef, so his latest stint – at a bright but slightly tacky Mayfair club dining room – is a bit of a mystery; on our visit (well after opening), we found uneven standards, and nothing outstanding apart from the bill.
ayfair having quite a name as a place to eat nowadays, it’s striking when you make a Friday lunchtime visit to a restaurant that remains pretty much empty throughout your visit. All the more so, when you consider that chef Joël Antunès first made a stir in these parts - at Les Saveurs, in Curzon Street – before the youngest members of today’s hospitality trade were even born.
Subsequently, Antunès had a long stint in the US, before returning to London to set up the dining room of a vast new South Bank hotel. There, even critics of the ambience (most people) generally found nice things to say about the food.
The tacky-luxe ambience at this relaunched Mayfair dining room (cum club) is nothing to write home about either, but – given that the two-course lunch menu (£15) undoubtedly offers cracking value – the low occupancy still cries out for an explanation.
And, indeed, if we’d just had the gravadlax followed by the vegetable risotto (creamy, generous and full of taste), plus a glass of the very cheapest wine, we might have come out mystified by the poor attendance.
Fortunately, however, our guest, a captain of commerce, generally lunches à la carte – which is probably the more general approach in this part of town – and we began to understand the dearth of custom.
We can’t recall what he had to start, but we do remember the main course – one of the smallest pieces of fish we have ever seen served in a restaurant. He appeared to enjoy it, though. Briefly.
It’s his pudding, though, which really sticks in the mind. Presented in a sundae glass, and surrounded by luminescent pink sugar canes, it was the gayest dessert we have ever seen served in any restaurant anywhere (and, yes, that includes Miami Beach). Just bizarre. So bizarre, we'd hardly have been surprised if our captain of commerce had had a ‘McEnroe moment’, but mercifully he proved to be made of sterner stuff. Turned out he even enjoyed the thing.
We could not say the same. Our own pudding – less remarkable to look at – proved unpalatable (itself some sort of achievement), and it was removed almost entirely uneaten, without comment. On the plus side, however, this was one of only two faults in the otherwise good and friendly service – the other being the credit card machine which prompted us to tip on top of the automatic charge.
Which brings us to the bill. And perhaps the most likely explanation for the low attendance. Even having chosen quite modestly from the wine list, and one of us having taken the bargain set menu, the total cost of a lunch which had conscientiously failed to reach any particular heights was £150.
Our turn for a McEnroe moment.
Even in super-affluent Mayfair, it seems, the price mechanism is not entirely without effect.