Remarkable in location and setting – just two mins from Piccadilly Circus, and with a large terrace – the latest Firmdale Hotel offers the group’s usual dining formula; the establishment’s all-round charms, though, may well make it a real destination.
You’ve got to hand it to Tim & Kit Kemp, the Londoners who’ve built up a small but perfectly formed hotel empire, with nine establishments, stretching all the way from Soho W1 to SoHo NYC (and a second bite at the Big Apple in prospect too).
They’re all essentially the same, too: contemporary and a bit stagey, with quite a hint of the English country house. It’s a style that seems to work well in parts of town (London or NYC) that see themselves as just a little bit trendy, without actually venturing onto the cutting edge of hip. Their latest outlet is in some senses the same as ever.
It is also astonishing. Who’d have thought you could create a whole new ‘urban village’ (their phrase) – complete with a large and elegant terrace for dining and drinking – in a forgotten corner of Soho? Indeed, who’d ever have thought there could be such a thing, barely 200 metres from Piccadilly Circus?
It really is like entering the Wardrobe – the one where there was also a Lion and a Witch. It’s not often this reviewer feels something close to astonishment on entering a new establishment, but this, dear reader, was one of those occasions.
Like the actual interiors, however – if here realised on a scale we can’t recall the group pulling off before – the food offer is pretty much the same old same old. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with it – everything we ate was well cooked, particularly a deftly timed piece of cod and tasty gnocchi with ricotta – but that the three course ‘Modern British’ formula seems decidedly old hat nowadays.
How odd that a bastion of tradition like Claridge’s has now gone all small plates and flower-to-eat, whereas this wholly new establishment doesn’t really seem to have reflect any changes in the way people have eaten since, ooh, 2000. Sharing dishes? Tasting menus? Never heard of ’em. Some tables with cloths, some without; wasn’t that the épater-la-bourgeoisie idea Conran had when he relaunched Quaglino’s’ in 1997?
We’ve never been impressed by the Firmdale dining formula, and it looks as if that ain’t gonna change now. But, with advantages of location, setting and atmosphere like this, who’s going to notice?
As a money-machine, this is set to be a smash hit.