What are hotel restaurants for? It’s a question that many hotels struggle with, especially in cities with vibrant restaurant scenes.
A haven of gastronomy is one obvious answer, so recruiting a ‘name’ chef is step one. For many years, Theo Randall headed up the kitchen at the River Café, so putting his name up in lights suggests that’s the plan here. If so, this place, in the early days at least, is an abject failure. Only one dish out of eight sampled stood out, and that dish- an excellent carpaccio – unfortunately came at the beginning. Two plates of pasta were ho-hum. A generous main course portion of John Dory was on the verge of being overcooked, and a fish stew similarly failed to raise the spirits. Lemon tart – perhaps the ultimate ‘critical test’ dish – was too creamy truly to satisfy.
And prices are vertiginous. Our dinner for two, including two glasses of champagne and a bottle of pretty standard wine, would weigh in around the £200 mark. You can eat almost anywhere in London for this money, and usually much better.
But, you cry, surely the place must have other uses? Well, we couldn’t see any. Dinner with your Mayfair mistress? Forget it: this cold and unflatteringly-lit dining room is as unromantic a location as central London affords.
Business, then? The tables are well-spaced, so at first sight this seems a runner. But the acoustics are poor and conversation – with the room at most a third full – was surprisingly difficult. And service, at least in these early days, is well below the level you might hope for.
It left us stumped. Hotel groups have so many resources at their disposal. Is that why so many of them continue to get their dining rooms so disastrously wrong?