Off the Embankment, near the Savoy, a vast new pan-Asian bar/restaurant, modelled on (and run by the same team as) the original Paris establishment of the same name; on our early-dog-days-of-August visit it was not yet buzzing, but showed much potential as a romantic/party venue.
They claim that the original Paris Buddha Bar – tucked-away in a basement near the Hotel du Crillon – pioneered, back in 1996, the ‘genre of celebrity-filled restaurants and entertainment destinations that has since been imitated worldwide’. The new London Buddha Bar is – unlike its other branches worldwide – operated by the Paris team.
Judged as a ‘celebrity-filled restaurant and entertainment destination’, we thought the place shaped up pretty well. Well, except that there weren’t any celebs at all, not that we recognised anyway. In fact, everyone seemed rather normal (and, given what one imagines is the target market, surprisingly mature too). The place was never really very full, either, which kept the atmosphere one pip down from ‘buzzing’. But then it was August.
The space itself is certainly impressive, with the main room dominated by an enormous Buddha, and with a sushi bar at one end. Up on the balcony, there is a bar.
Various spaces – presumably suited to parties – open off the main room. Lighting is very low throughout, to the extent you really do need to use the tea lights to read the menu. The whole feel is just a little bit tacky, which – in a curious way – is rather comforting.
The other thing which was surprisingly comforting was the staff, of whom they need quite a lot just to lead people round the various bits of the operation. They were all very charming, and seemed to be trying really hard.
Service is not yet, however, perfectly drilled. Our (pre-booked) party of three – including one handicapée – had to circumnavigate the vast room completely to be led to an empty side chamber with a table set for five. Doh! When we protested, however, we were quickly moved closer to the supposed ‘action’. Thereafter – given the scale of the whole thing – the meal generally progressed surprisingly efficiently.
The food here has been criticised on the basis, essentially, that it is: a) pan-Asian; and b) rather expensive for what it is. Such criticisms seem to us to be essentially irrelevant. People don’t come here for a foodie experience, they come here to party, or for romance. And this sort of décor – even if a touch kitsch – doesn’t come cheap.
We’d have to say, however, that we all enjoyed sharing our mélange of sushi, sashimi, seared scallops and shitake mushrooms (an odd combination, admittedly), shrimp tempura and so on. We liked the puddings too, though the warm chocolate cake did rather eclipse the cheesecake. Judged as superior party food, there was simply nothing to complain about at any point in the meal.
Our bill, including two very palatable bottles of claret (£34 each) came to about £70 a head, for an evening all agreed had been thoroughly enjoyable, if not the last word in dazzling chic. Perhaps they could do with a crowd which is just a bit more ‘beautiful’, but for the moment this makes a good-all-round destination. And for us ordinary people too.