In London, great purpose-built public dining rooms – of the nature of New York’s Four Seasons, or the Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon – are rare. Our top contender is arguably the lofty central chamber of the Royal Festival Hall, which benefits from wonderful proportions, as well as a spectacular river view.
Like the rest of the Hall, the chamber has until recently been closed for a major refurbishment. It now looks better than ever, having benefited from a notably elegant and unusually bold make-over, by Conran & Partners. (Cynics might say Conran only has only one ‘look’, but fortunately that style is right at home in this great ’50s room.)
There’s an attractive bar in the middle of the room, with brasserie and fine dining options at opposite ends. We opted for the former, and jolly good it was too. Everything – with the exception of a rather unremarkable sticky toffee pudding – was done very well indeed. In fact, we almost came away thinking that we’d like to come back and try the fine dining.
But, inevitably, there is a rub. This is a D&D operation (the new name for Conran Restaurants), and prices – with a brasserie dinner for two easily passing the £100 mark – give nothing away.
On the one hand, why should they? This is surely a natural ‘premium’ location. On the other hand, though, the RFH is a public asset, lodged in the collective consciousness as the “People’s Palace” – the name, in fact, under which the restaurant formerly traded, You don’t have to be starry-eyed ’50s socialist to find it sad that the formula adopted will make the place inaccessible to so many of the People.