The grand-yet-dull dining room of the Hyde Park hotel, recently taken over by Rome’s starry Heinz Beck; there were flashes of greatness on our visit, but not enough to outweigh the otherwise dreary hotel fare.
It would be fair to say that – while London’s restaurants have got better and better in recent years – those in the city’s grandest hotels have got worse and worse. The Connaught, Claridge’s and The Dorchester are three prime offenders. You really do find yourself wondering how these world-famous landmarks keep getting it so monumentally wrong. Greed, presumably. Or perhaps: greed and ignorance. No, make that: greed, ignorance and a pathetic desire for hitching their fortunes to the celeb bandwagon. Three causes is probably enough.
In recent years, the Lanesborough may be acquitted of seeking to associate itself with celebrity, at least on the chef front. When they relaunched the space now known as Apsley’s a year or so ago, they fell for the celebrity line only in the choice of designer: Adam Tihany, who’s big news in New York’s interiors scene. He duly dished up one deadly-dull but mega-opulent interior in a style with which, we assume, rich but timid Americans feel comfortable. On the cuisine front, however, the hotel went ‘the other way’, making an odd choice of an ex-Cecconi’s chef who – to no one’s great surprise – pretty quickly appeared out of his depth, and left.
Well now, in what’s hailed as something of a coup in some quarters, they’ve gone quite the other way, and signed up the German Heinz Beck – famed for his Italian cooking, who presides over the three-Michelin-star Pergola at Rome’s Cavalieri Hilton – to run the kitchen at the Lanesborough.
Only in the kitchen was any change apparent on our visit in the earliest days of the new régime. Beck’s involvement is not even signified on the menu (to the extent that we actually sought re-assurance, duly given, that his team had taken up duties).
Well-crafted bread, and fabulous first courses – including a marvellously light yet satisfying salmon appetiser, with the fish sandwiched in slivers of paper-thin wafers – did hint at the arrival of Greatness. Would the cuisine perhaps eclipse that of Theo Randall at the Intercontinental, just over Hyde Park Corner?
Expectations rose during the – prolonged – wait for the main course: the kitchen was running at a snail’s pace even though the restaurant was barely a quarter full. Finally our main courses arrived. The big moment’ was not to be. Everything was hotel-y and humdrum. A very small bit of cod had been oddly scented and then undercooked, to the extent that the final result was plain unpleasant. Finishing the beef dish – marinated cheek, was it? – was a plod through a large piece of not very flavourful meat. Artisan tagliatelle was described by its recipient merely with a yawn.
But, remembering our starters, we so wanted to believe. And so it was that we were prevailed upon – by the extremely charming staff – to have a soufflé. A mistake, of course: we’d already seen how slow the kitchen could be. When it did arrive, it was technically very good, but it came garlanded with too many bells and whistles that only detracted. If we want tutti frutti, we’ll go to a gelateria, thank you very much.
Excellent petit fours and reasonable coffee couldn’t rescue a sense of hopes dashed’ or rather of original fears fully realised.