From the (Lebanese) Maroush Group, a beautiful relaunch of a mega-grand St John’s Wood hostelry; despite the best efforts of the charming staff, and food which was at least satisfactory, the overwhelming impression from our visit was that the initial formula just does not ‘work’.
Crocker’s Folly came into being, the legend goes, because Mr Crocker had worked out where a new railway terminal was to be built, and built a temple of hospitality there to benefit from all the anticipated passing trade. But he was wrong. It was built not in St John’s Wood, but Marylebone. Ruined by the expense of his misbegotten hostelry, he committed suicide by jumping off the roof.
Let’s hope the legend is not to be repeated. The Mr Crocker of our day is the Maroush group – established restaurateurs, you might think – who have clearly spent a fortune rescuing this potential gem.
The first problem is glaringly obvious as you arrive: the site – devoid of any obvious local transport hub, never mind a railway station – is obscure.
The second problem, one may guess, is that the Maroush group is Lebanese (specialising, as it happens, in high-traffic west London locations) and this is their first European venture. Hmm, what does that bring to mind? Ah yes, One Kensington, the Tamarind (Indian) group’s effort at ‘doing an English’, which lasted all of six months…and the site of which is about to revert to being Indian (welcome back Zaika).
It’s not, to be very clear, that this is a bad or mean production, but precisely the opposite. One is humbled by not just the expense but also the love which has clearly gone into rescuing this vast and elegant building. It might sound fanciful, but the stunning chandeliers, at least for this writer, evoked nothing less than the ‘galerie des Glaces’ at Versailles.
The service, if not yet quite as highly polished as the light fittings, is clearly Trying Very Hard too. And even the food is not bad. But the overall ‘offer’, to use the trade’s term, is odd. Surely what this isolated spot cries out for is a menu that can be all things to many people? A place where you can turn up at any time and be sure of finding something you really want to eat. Some variation on a Gallic brasserie format, for example, might surely have been ideal? (The setting is perhaps too grand to work as a straight ‘gastropub’.)
What you actually find is a slender menu – so physically insignificant we originally overlooked it – which offers just four starters (or three if you exclude the beef tartare, regarded as unacceptably odd by many English people), and not many more main courses (if you exclude the steak options).
The starters, such as mi-cuit salmon, or slow-cooked octopus, came fancily plated with blobs of this and a blob of that, but were enjoyable enough. Meat came in notably – arguably excessively – generous portions, but both the steaks (from the inevitable Josper Grill) and the lamb were somewhat on the tepid side, and, in the former case, not cooked as ordered. Chips were fine. We had no space for pudding.
The short and oddly configured menu is set off by a wine list whose much more impressive presentation reflects its much more extensive content: it offers considerable variety, both in style and price. But if we had been the sort of punters minded to order a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (£667) or of Château Brane-Cantenac (£274), is it not likely that we would have expected to be told what vintages we were considering? Yet this extensive list is bizarrely devoid of year-of-origin data: not something we can ever recall (not) seeing before, at least at these sorts of prices!
As we left this still quite empty establishment, this general feeling of oddness was the principal sentiment with which we stole away into the night. Let’s hope it was just the ghost of Crocker, and that by tweaking this (potentially good value) formula Maroush can avoid a folly of their own.