A classic MPW-French operation decorated in subdued nightclubby style, rather unpromisingly located by the entrance to Chelsea FC; the style of the operation is arguably a little passé, but the food is of high quality.
London’s restaurants have come so far over the past 20 years – and particularly the past 10 – that the mere fact that a place offers good food doesn’t necessarily make it of particular interest. How else to explain why we found the latest addition to the Marco Pierre White empire to be both thoroughly competent and completely pointless?
But, first, let’s do the ‘competent’ bit: the cooking is generally very good. Highlights of a lunch included an unctuous crab bisque, a light and delicious kipper pâté, a beautiful and generous piece of cod and some splendid rib-eye steak. Marco’s signature lemon tart was also well up to standard. Further to accentuate the positive, the restaurant is handsome and solidly furnished – with that slightly sub-nightclub level of glitz the French often do well – and service is friendly and tries hard.
And yet’ The going here is going to be tough. This is, after all, a ‘graveyard’ site (two or three times in living memory). Unglamorously situated by the entrance to Chelsea FC, it benefits from significant pedestrian traffic on perhaps 20 days a year. The only natural source of ongoing walk-by business is the faceless adjoining hotel: presumably most people who stay there, however, are well aware that Chelsea proper is only five minutes away by cab.
If you were launching a restaurant on a site like that, you’d probably make darned sure that it had a Unique Selling Proposition – some compelling reason to seek it out. If there is one here, however, it passed us by. It’s almost as if Marco hasn’t noticed that a lot’s happened in the restaurant world since he built up most of his empire in the ’90s.
The menu, for example, is high-class, generic, modern French. Even in a more obvious site, we wonder if that formula wouldn’t seem a bit passé in a city where the trends are ‘grazing’, local sourcing and regionalism. It’s arguably a style that’s fine for business dining, but would anyone actively seek it out? And, if so, wouldn’t they be looking in Knightsbridge or Mayfair? Or Smithfield? And wouldn’t business diners expect a decent wine list? The one here verges on perfunctory.
So perhaps Marco’s got one eye to the locals? Well, the set lunch menu is exceptional value (2 courses for £16.50), but weekday business is thin out West (even in Chelsea proper). The weekend could perhaps be a opportunity, but the affluent folk who live round here often have kids. The carte, however, is mainly not child-suitable – oddly, as the place is named after one of his children – and no thought has been given to a kids’ menu or portions.
It was early days on our Saturday lunchtime visit, but the attendance rather bore out our concerns. Precisely three tables were occupied: one by the great man himself, one by us, and the last by another restaurant critic. There were, in short, no ‘real’ people there at all. It looks like it will need a lot of very positive reviews to drive enough traffic to make this place a success.