The ground-floor dining room of the D&D (‘Conran’) group’s first solo hotel venture, near Liverpool Street; the venture as a whole generally impressed on our early-days visit, but this particular restaurant struck us as lacking in inspiration, both culinarily and on the design front.
We go back a long way with the D&D Group, or Conran Restaurants as it used to be called. When Sir Terence’s restaurants became all the rage in the late-’90s, we rained on the parade by pointing out that real people – as represented by our survey – weren’t actually taken in by the sheer scale of operations such as Quaglino’s, and would have preferred decent-value cooking, and proper service.
Some people said back then we were just aiming at the tallest poppy for effect (much like they said about Gordon Ramsay a decade or so later). Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Harden’s ‘heresies’ – led by the wisdom of our surveying of intelligent crowds – have a funny way of becoming the new orthodoxy’ after a delay of about 18 months.
And so D&D has ploughed on, seemingly very successfully, usually in a vacuum of praise from our guides, or, so far as we’re aware, anyone else’s. Where would Toptable, or the Evening Standard in full promotional mode, be without them? Bargains R Us!
We mention all this history, because Des – the other ‘D’ is David – spotted us within a moment of arriving at the group’s first solo foray into the hotel business, near Liverpool Street. Our relationship is (in case you should suspect anything else) entirely amicable, and he kindly asked if we’d like a tour of his new-build hotel (of which he’d been given the keys all of 72 hours before!).
Rude to say no, so, in short let’s record that this is a pretty intriguing building, including a one-of-kind kinetic artwork, a really groovy open air bar on the ground floor, another (‘ProvenÃ§al-style’) bar on the top floor, and offering lots of interesting private dining possibilities. The bedrooms are very smart and spacious, but a bit cold for our tastes – perhaps that’s what Masters of the Universe like?
And so to the ostensible reason for our visit, to dine in the new ground floor restaurant – surprisingly thinly populated, we thought, given the fair level of advance PR for the opening.
To accentuate the positive, the staff were lovely. OK, they’d presumably been tipped off, but everyone was really nice, and trying very hard. And efficiently too, given the recency of the opening. The food is essentially posh-gastropub. There was nothing to reproach in our dandelion and Beenleigh Blue salad, or our lobster mac, or the lamb curry. But nothing ever tingled. This was ultimately hotel food, of a perfectly competent variety, but not – in our view – of the sort you’d positively seek out.
We didn’t especially like the dining room either. That’s not so much a criticism of the internal design – which is fine, without being particularly inspired – as of the fact that the external ‘walls’ are largely plate-glass windows, looking out on an unattractive City-scape. Why would you do that?
As noted above, though, there are many other hospitality spaces in the hotel – including the forthcoming Angler restaurant on the top floor. And almost all of these look set to be rather more inviting options than this, the ‘obvious’ ground-floor choice.