A less pricey successor to the wacky Ambassade de L’Ile; it’s a great improvement all round, but in current conditions the style is still perhaps touch too chicly-Gallic and upmarket, even for South Kensington.
L’Ambassade de L’Ile was a great exercise in value destruction. Huge amounts of money (some £2m) were spent to convert the formerly rather charming Lundum’s premises, in South Kensington, into a sort of shagadelic ’70s fantasy.
To English eyes at least, such a venue was completely inappropriate for the enjoyment of Michelin-pleasing fare pitched at £100+ a head, and the place lasted about a year.
Nous avons changé tout cela. The new look is as cool and contemporary as the old one was absurdly mannered. It is also, however, irredeemably French, as if this were some new gaff in Paris’s chi-chi 16th arrondissement. Yes, that’s rather an expensive look, which may be why, on our Wednesday visit, we lunched alone.
We got the impression that such a thin crowd was far from unknown, which, in many ways, is a shame. The horribly under-employed Gallic staff really are very charming.
The food is similarly of a high class. A deux, we sampled both starters and mains from the set lunch menu, and there were all very elegant. But, like the décor, the whole approach is arguably just too pukka for either the name of the place, or the times.
A Jerusalem artichoke velouté was a classic example – its presentation was entirely Ã la Michelin, but it was too polite. We’d have liked a bit less cream and a bit more artichoke. Other dishes, similarly, were beautifully presented, in the way you might find in many an upmarket French-style restaurant.
Which is to say, of course, that this place doesn’t in any respect feel like a bistro. In this, the Gallic disengagement which was apparent in the conception of Ambassade seems again to have come to the fore.
This site, over its long history as a restaurant, has often traded as a (relatively) cheap and cheerful destination. A plain Englishman might have said that the failure of the Ambassade, and the stringency of the times, suggested that a proper French bistro might well work here very well.
So why adopt the name, while ignoring the concept? There are so many things we English will never understand.