Conran Restaurants is dead. Long live D&D London. That’s the clear message broadcast by London’s largest quality restaurant group since its recent (partial) MBO. What’s most interesting is that the two Ds concerned -Des Gunewardena and David Loewi – have even been explicitly distancing themselves from the conveyor-belt style with which, they now admit, the group had come to be associated. (This may be contrasted with the position as stated by their erstwhile boss, Sir Tel, which was always that such allegations were a monstrous calumny, cooked up by wicked people such as ourselves.)
The ‘new’ Bluebird (just re-launched in the restaurant’s tenth year) is the first acid test of the new régime, so we were particularly interested to check it out. Our first feeling – as we were left hanging around while someone was found to show us to our table – was of the here-we-go-again variety. Thereafter, however, everything looked up. Service was personable and on the ball. The setting is now more comfortable, and less anodyne. And the British cooking imported by Mark Broadbent from the formerly adjacent Bluebird Dining Rooms was often impressive.
It’s still not cheap, though. A spicy crab starter, with hot ‘scones’ (more like blinis), was – for a tenner – rather of canapé proportions. But the meal included stand-out successes including a dish of deceptive simplicity: fish, chips and peas. It was a textbook – respectively flaky, crisp and sweet – performance. Incidentals such as bread and coffee were also impressive. A cheesecake, though, would have benefited from a bit longer in the oven.
So, it’s early days, but the signs are hopeful. Maybe a leopard really can change its spots.