An elegant and refined, if perhaps rather anonymous, addition to the Gordon Ramsay empire, on the former Mayfair site of Zen Central (RIP); Angela Hartnett’s Italian-influenced menu is the highlight of an impressive across-the-board performance.
Gordon Ramsay is so omnipresent in the media nowadays that it’s easy to forget that the number of undoubted ‘hit’ London restaurants with which he has ever been associated is precisely three – the Royal Hospital Road flagship and maze (plus Grill), and the now-departed Pétrus. Everything else is media hype and (largely) Michelin-sustained nonsense.
That’s not to say that the other restaurants have necessarily been bad, just that there’s been nothing outstanding about them. Angela Hartnett – chef at this latest venture – is a case in point. We always felt her gig at the Connaught was a middle-ranker which was wildly over-praised in some quarters (a view consistently upheld by responses to our survey). Our expectations of the new venture, near Shepherd Market, were therefore not that high.
Well, it just goes to show’ This turns out to be one of the best openings of 2008. That’s not the least of the surprises. Especially as Ms Hartnett’s PR machine is always banging on about her Italian heritage, it’s something of a surprise to find that the menu is, at most, ‘half-Italian’ (the remaining bit being largely French). (This applies to the standard and dégustation menus, and also to the very good-value lunch.) Nor were we expecting a grand wine list of biblical proportions and diverse inspiration’ and with ‘entry-level’ glasses at around a fiver.
Service is excellent. Of course, you expect a polished performance in a swanky Mayfair joint, but the attention to detail here is first-rate, generally (if not quite invariably) avoiding a descent into servility.
Prices – especially for lunch – are not excessive, for the area. For the record we enjoyed lunch for two, with a couple of glasses of wine and unrudgingly-brought tap water, for about £85. Highlights included the bread selection, a chicken and foie gras terrine, a monkfish ‘stew’ and an almond tart. Best of all, perhaps, were the vast array of inter-course and post-meal twiddles, which included an outstanding basil sorbet, plus some wonderful chocolates and wafer-thin brandysnaps.
On the downside, most reviewers have found the general style of the place to be rather anonymous, and this is a criticism with which it is hard to disagree. You could be inside an hotel. That said, the lavishness of the décor is executed in a very comfortable way. Like all other aspects of the operation, it seems well tuned to the Mayfair market at which the establishment so elegantly aims.