Jamie Barber has made his name as a fashionable restaurateur. In spite of mediocre food, his first operation, Hush – with its large bar operation, and its tie-up with Roger Moore’s son, Geoffrey – has become a major hang-out for younger Mayfair money. Not everything he has touched has turned to gold, however. An effort to repeat the trick at St James’s Shumi (RIP) went nowhere fast.
Given such in-crowd leanings, he seems an odd saviour for Villandry. Because – despite years of lacklustre performance at the hands of a well-connected lady owner – this grand Marylebone deli and restaurant has always primarily been known as a foodie destination.
Mr B has certainly put his money where his mouth is, though, and £1m has been lavished on giving the interior a more hospitable atmosphere. Its rambling premises now feel much warmer and more inviting, and – in addition to food retail – now include a charcuterie bar and a grand ‘Rapide’ take-away section.
In these early days, the large brasserie – a somewhat Anglicised take on the classic Gallic format – seems a more creditable operation than the former incarnation. A lunch for two uncovered some real highlights, such as an excellent plaice meunière and a superb lemon tart. Not everything shone, though, with basics like bread (from the in-house bakery) and chips notably lacking in sparkle. Service was affable but – evoking the bad old days – rather stretched. The setting is still on the noisy side.
All things considered, though, it’s a promising start. But such a large and multi-faceted operation will never offer any scope for complacency. Let’s hope that its evident initial success doesn’t distract Jamie Barber from the long-term effort that will be needed to make the place a real institution.