A classic Gallic brasserie style St James’s newcomer, on the former Fiore (RIP) site; despite some auspicious backing, it falls surprisingly flat across the board.
*Note (27 June): We hear that, since this review was written, the ‘launch’ chef has left, and Pierre Koffmann himself is – at least for the time being – in charge of the stoves.**
If you know who’s ‘behind’ a forthcoming restaurant, you’re unlikely to go that far wrong as to what the end product is like. So if you know that a new brasserie is to be opened by Claudio Pulze (whose 50 previous establishments include everything from Aubergine and Zafferano) you expect something pretty useful. And all the more so when he’s in league with Pierre Koffmann.
Koffmann may not be a household name nowadays, but – if you take out the empire-building, self-promoting and foul-mouthed bits – he was the Gordon Ramsay of the nineties. His Tante Claire restaurant – on the site now the Ramsay HQ – was invariably London’s best. Then he moved TC to the Berkeley Hotel site which is now Pétrus, and didn’t prosper. He dropped out of sight for a while, and his return has long been rumoured.
Amazingly, however, almost everything about the new restaurant manages to some extent to be wrong. It doesn’t help that this is a site with poor proportions, and a bit of a chequered history to boot. (To make it all the more confusing, it’s not so long ago that it was called Pétrus.) It’s been done over as a straight down-the-line Gallic brasserie which, without any patina of age, just looks a little bit cold and univiting.
The service was often pleasant, but it seemed to come and go rather. And couldn’t the waiter have mentioned we were over-ordering? Our main dish came not only with the spuds and greens we had ordered, but also with some unadvertised rice and vegetables which, as it turned out, were included anyway. It added insult to injury when the unnecessary bowl of spinach came at £1 per teaspoonful.
Pretty decent bread included a good pain de campagne. Unfortunately, however, this was also served as the complement to the foie gras terrine, when the traditional brioche would have been infinitely better. A main course of kidneys was perfectly workmanlike, but – for £16 – didn’t have the feeling of coming with a great deal of Tante Claire heritage, even if, garnished, it arguably made a decent-value dish, at least by St James’s standard. The same could not be said of the uninviting, soggy rum baba.
So, £60 for a pretty basic lunch for one, with two glasses of wine and one cup of coffee. Regular readers will know we’re big brasserie fans, but we can’t say this is one we’ll be rushing back to.