A question for central London luxury hotels: How many restaurants is too many? A Michelin-baiting big name above the door is obviously a must, but punters less obsessed with the finer points of fine dining need their feeding ground — somewhere still super-expensive, but not explicitly fancy. Hence the noble tradition of the hotel grill — the sort of institution that, in its heyday, could be counted upon to turn out a decent steak, properly cooked roast beef, and a nice bit of fish with consummate professionalism.
Its reliability has been has been looking a bit green about the gills of late. First there was Gordon Ramsay’s Bar and Grill at the Grosvenor Square Marriott, surgically dissected by Marina O’Loughlin last month; now it’s the turn of the revamped Connaught Grill to leave David Sexton far from impressed.
The room may be “an extraordinary rustical/minimalist/luxury installation” but the vibe is “oddly unsettling”: “a bit David Lynch and not in a good way,” the “atmosphere further lowered by grisly and needless muzak.” The food is similarly dour: “trophy ingredients” like truffle and foie gras may “ride high” on the menu but execution is frequently “inept.” The surprise at the centre of the signature oeuf en surprise is that it contains “undercooked and sloppy liquid” beneath its “burnt” exterior; a “daunting” Welsh rarebit with fresh crab — a case study in ingredients “having little to say to each other” — is an “equally disconcerting starter.”
Mains are little better: Racan chicken is overcooked to the point of being actively “fibrous,” and is certainly not redeemed by the “greasy” gravy served alongside it; a whole Dover sole for £58 is “ferociously grilled” and therefore wholly “unrewarding.” On the side, roasted Brussels sprouts are “charred outside, soggy within”; a potato rosti is “crisped to perdition,” and “blackened with a daft quantity of truffle dust.” Puddings are “sickly”; a fully-loaded bill could easily top out at “over £300.” It’s a salutary lesson of how “having a resplendent history can be as much a burden to a restaurant as an asset.”
There’s more mediocre meat cookery on show over in SW1, where Tony Turnbull finds the Steak Society’s “London Steakhouse of the Year” is puzzlingly remiss in nailing its signature product. Starters do not inspire confidence: salt-baked beetroot is “a plate of slippery, fridge-cold chunks devoid of seasoning and flavour”; salmon tartare is “similarly underseasoned”, comprising “an oily puddle of diced fish alongside a slice of grilled sourdough the size of a fisherwoman’s slap.” And so to the mains, and a “slab of blackened protein” in the guise of rump steak — not “so much caramelised as cauterised” — and some béarnaise on the side “thick as wallpaper paste, and with the pale green tinge of leprechaun vomit.” Turnbull acknowledges that nailing the cooking of a steak is far from “easy”: “every piece of meat is different and you have to rely on experience to bend the ferocity of the grill to your will.” But “cooking meat over wood is the whole point” of a restaurant like this”, so “if they can’t get the cuisson right, really, what’s left?”
Those in search of a decent steak might in fact find one at Amazonico, according to William Sitwell, who delivers a markedly warmer verdict on the South American club-staurant than a vaguely bemused Jimi Famurewa did last year.
This “much flashier, more garish, much larger and way more Instagrammable” alternative to former Berkeley Square darling Sexy Fish makes Richard Caring’s monument to monied excess look “like a parochial chip shop” in comparison — and it’s actually “good,” too.
This being a sceney plutocrats’ playground, there is of course the obligatory DJ, “thumping music,” and gallery of “goofs pouting at themselves for Insta-selfies.” But sneak into the restaurant proper, and the atmosphere visibly “calms” into something “intimate” and “comfortable.”
And then there follows a succession of “endless pretty dishes”, from raw carabineros with yuzu and popped corn, a “triumph of subtle flavour and satisfying crunch,” to skirt steak marinated in chimichurri: “a glistening revelation of charred fat and pink flesh.” A plate of charred broccoli stems and carrots is “stunning”; chocolate fondant to finish is “perfect.” Factor in “impeccable” service and Sitwell finds it hard to not get swept away on a tide of enthusiasm every bit as powerful as Amazonico’s namesake river.
There is, of course, a very different kind of energy suffusing Selin Kiazim’s repurposing of the space formerly occupied by her restaurant Kyseri — something a little more homely and humble, and a whole lot more interested in carbohydrates.
For Jimi Famurewa, this feels like both a feature and a bug. The space is “cosy” and “romantic,” and there are some “properly, properly spectacular” dishes on the short menu, from the “rocketing high” that is the “gorgeously warm” bread selection, to the “mucky collision of crunch, salt and ripe sweetness” that characterises the “heavily Instagrammed” Black Sea pide. But as pide follows bread basket and bazlama flatbread follows pide, there’s an unmistakable sense of “early enthusiasm being well and truly carbed” as a once pleasurable experience starts to feel “effortful.”
It goes without saying that “there are far greater sins than perhaps a little too much of the same good thing.” It’s still early days; “reimagining a restaurant” is, to put it lightly, “tricky.” With a few “smart additions to the menu”, “a more rounded experience” for customers is well within Kiazim’s reach; Famurewa leaves “uncomfortably full,” “a little fatigued,” but confident that he has found “a thoroughly likeable operation that’s merely a few tweaks away from greatness.”
Your Mum’s Kitchen
A “thoroughly likeable operation” might also cover the final destination for this week — as Jay Rayner finds himself quietly wowed by the homely Korean fare at Your Mum’s Kitchen off the Finchley Road.
This may only be a “bare bones café” but it’s “utterly delightful for being that.” Hits from the kitchen include “golden brown” seafood pajeon; “shatteringly crisp” chicken wings “drenched in a sweet and fiery gochujang-based glaze”; and a “star turn” that is the yukgaejang special, a “spicy” beef soup boasting “endlessly sustaining depths”. There may be “bigger Korean restaurants in London offering longer, more sophisticated menus”. But Rayner doubts that “there are many that are as sweet and beguiling as this one.”