An airy but oppressive City banking hall, now a seafood bar-cum-restaurant; the upstairs boasts impressive views of the Bank of England but our early-days visit suggested that it was only the proprietors’ wealth and Establishment connections that have made it of any real note.
‘Monumentally disappointing.’ That’s a phrase people usually use figuratively. You can, however, apply it literally to this new City operation. However good the building was as a bank, it just doesn’t work as a bar/restaurant.
But we get ahead of ourselves. The original Green’s, for those who don’t know it, is clubland’s unofficial diner. In the very heart of St James’s, this is where members of such rival factions as White’s, Brooks’s and Boodle’s congregate to eat (good-quality) nursery food on neutral ground. The place has long been owned by Simon Parker Bowles, whose brother used to be married to the lady who is now Duchess of Cornwall. Occasional attendance almost defines membership of what used to be called the ‘Establishment’.
Few, however, are the restaurants which do not now seek to become ‘concepts’ nowadays, and even this bastion of Burlington Berties has felt the need to move with the times. New capital has been supplied by lords Daresbury and Vestey (heirs to brewing and butchery fortunes, respectively). First fruit of the expanded ownership, the new City venture, costing some £2m, occupies the former headquarters of Lloyds Bank, which were given a money-no-object make-over in 1930.
First problem is that it’s not at all obvious from the street that the premises are a restaurant nowadays. This isn’t an insuperable difficulty if a place becomes known, as the St James’s original has, for being worth seeking out. But if you do go in, what do you find? A neo-classical former banking hall of the most dreary and bombastic type. There is none of the esprit you find at the D&D Group’s operation in the (much older) Royal Exchange, and none of the drama of Harvey Nics’s banking hall outpost, Prism, down by the ‘other’ Lloyds. If rooms have spirits, this one is a bumptious bank manager, in the style of Captain Mainwaring. (The original Green’s, of course, is comme il faut – very much in in the spirit of John Le Mesurier’s aristocratic Sgt. Wilson.)
Perhaps daunted by the vast expenditure which would have been needed to make the space at all interesting or attractive – if, indeed, it might have been possible – their lordships have simply flunked it.
‘The manager will see you now.’ Emerging from our reverie, we found ourselves sitting in the main hall, being professionally, if slowly, served by waitresses who were still settling in. The short bar menu failed to raise the spirits, so we thought we’d go for the obvious aristo choice: half a dozen (well, these are hard times) of the new-season natives. ‘Sorry, sir. We’ve run out.’ Run out? At 1.30pm? Horsewhip the manager! How can you launch a bar with a seafood menu and so quickly run out of the new-season natives?
So we settled for such hardly exciting choices as rock oysters (fine), fishcakes and chips. The food was competent, in the way of many unimaginative wine bars, but our overwhelming feeling was simply a desire to escape. Life is too short to eat (or drink) is settings as dull as this, and where the room is so obviously ‘wrong’.
On the way out, we had a look at the restaurant we’d (ultimately) noticed, up on the mezzanine level, where the clerks of old used to labour. It’s not an inspired space – given the circumstances, how could it be? – but it is bright, and the window tables have impressive views of the Bank of England. If you’re minded to check this place out, we’d suggest you tried for one of those.