A re-launch of one of the most remarkable interiors in London, this grand Victorian – neo-Byzantine – dining room offers a comfortable sort of all-round experience, at prices that, except pre-theatre, will probably make it mainly a business venue.
The most wonderful restaurant interior in London was created by Spiers & Pond, the great railway station caterers of Victoria’s day. Back then, five shillings (25p) would buy you a ‘Parisian dinner’ – an appropriate enough style of dining for one of the few London dining rooms which could in any way be said to match up to the great brasseries of the City of Light.
Since then, the building has had a chequered career, during most of which the impressive neo-Byzantine interior has been boarded up. Revealed in all its glory in the ’90s (the 1990s, that is), the restaurant has for most of the intervening period been part of the Marco Pierre White empire. Of late, however, it has been liberated by a young entrepreneur from Georgia (the ex-USSR one), whose first London restaurant venture this is.
The look of the establishment has been improved by the new régime. The interior can’t be touched of course, but the new lighting and carpets seem to work better with the space. The carpet somewhat reduces the grandeur, but it does keep the noise down – no small consideration in this vast marbled setting. The overall effect is grand but comfortable.
The key problem nowadays, of course, is who the restaurant can realistically be aimed at. Unless you’ve got the following of Messrs Corbin & King, say, it’s hard to run a ‘smart’ restaurant in a prominent location in Theatreland. And all the more when it’s just few doors along from Chav Central (also known as Lillywhites). Having said which, it does have a magnificently convenient location, and it was with business meetings that the place was largely full – well, let’s say one fifth full – on our early-days visit.
For such purposes, the menu is fine. It’s a bit miscellaneous, but realised to a pretty sound standard. We had some nice plump oysters, for example (if irritatingly presented in a bowl, not on a proper stand), a ‘torchon’ of rather over-chilled foie gras, an OK risotto, and some not so exciting pasta. Desserts seemed something of a highlight, but an espresso was very moderate.
As things turned out, we never tried the meat or fish offerings, but let’s just say they come in fair variety, and we doubt that the production is anything less than businesslike. Service, largely French, was pleasant, and trying hard. The wine list is not remarkable, but covers most of the obvious bases, at costs which fall short of ruinous.
So, in brief, this is an impressive and very comfortable, nothing-to-scare-anyone sort of venue. Prices are sufficiently high, though – except, possibly, pre-theatre – that it’s difficult to see this place gathering a huge following among those who have to pay their own way.