Wolfgang Puck is perhaps the best-known restaurateur in America. With an empire ranging from celebrity haunt Spago in Los Angeles through to sandwich outlets at US airports, Wolfgang was perhaps the original celebrity chef. Mr Puck trained as a chef at places like Maxims in Paris and Louis XV in Monaco before moving to the USA and opening Spago in 1982, and in 1997 opening Spago in Beverley Hills. In her excellent book “You’ll Never Eat lunch In This town Again”, movie producer Julia Phillips claimed that you could tell who was on the way up or way down in Hollywood by how good a table they were given at Spago. Mr Puck now has over two dozen restaurants (the only ones I have eaten at are Spago and Postrio in San Francisco, many years ago), and he even appeared in an episode of Frasier as a private caterer. Cut is his first London (indeed non US) venture, and is essentially a high-end steak house. The building is owned by the Dorchester Collection hotel group, and the fit-out is certainly lavish. The building, once a Playboy Club in years gone by (so I am told) has been beautifully refitted in art-deco style, and is now a boutique hotel with 45 rooms, in addition to Cut itself. The dining room is long and narrow, facing directly on to Park Lane, with many tables having a view over to the trees of Hyde Park. There is a marble floor, wood panelling and good lighting, and all the little details are classy, such as the elegant Rosenthal side plates (an appropriately Germanic supplier for the Austrian-born Mr Puck).
The menu had starters from £10 - £17, assorted main courses mostly around the £30 mark, with steaks at vertiginous prices. A 6oz fillet of Chilean Wagyu would set you back £85, while the same cut from Casterbridge in Devon (aged 28 days) cost £29, and was the cheapest cut available. Vegetables are on top, mostly at £5.50 apiece.
The wine list was lengthy with 24 pages of selections, and did have a few token cheap wines – I spotted one at £25, though this was far from typical. The list had mainly French and US wines, with only a few choices from elsewhere e.g. just one Australian Cabernet. The growers were certainly prestigious, and there was plenty of material for those with the means and desire to splurge. Mark-ups ranged widely, from tolerable in places to mostly steep all the way up to grotesque. Hartford Court Land’s Edge Pinot Noir 2007 was £56 for a wine you can find for £26 in the high street, Beaux Freres Williamette Valley 2007 Pinot Noir was a relative bargain at £110 for a wine that you can buy in a shop for £46 and Kistler Pinot Noir 2008 was £199 compared to a retail price of £76.
Normally mark-up levels fall at the higher end of a list (after all, there is hardly a proportionate cost to the restaurant of storing a costlier wine) yet some of the worst mark-ups seem reserved for the more prestigious wines. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1983 was an absurd £1,650 for a wine that you can find retail for £299 or less (the 1961 was £6,900 compared to a retail price of £2,090), while Vega Sicilia Unico 1999 was £690 for a wine you can buy for £187, a mark-up pushing four times retail. We drank Au Bon Climat Cabernet Bouge 2007 at £74 for a wine that retails at £19. Mineral water was £5.50 a bottle, which of course has a mark-up level that makes the wine seem a giveaway.
We began with nibbles of gougeres made from Gruyere cheese, and although a little too doughy in texture these had nice flavour (4/10). Breads were made from scratch: onion focaccia, olive bread, wheat bread, and were well-made (6/10).
My starter of tuna tartare was genuinely good, the tuna of good quality, served with pickled cucumber, pickled ginger, wasabi, a mini-salad and little pieces of thin spiced bread that had been toasted. Seasoning was excellent and the dish was most enjoyable (6/10). Also good was crab Louis, Dorset crab with tomatoes and horseradish. The crab itself was fresh and had good taste, the tomatoes rather less in the taste department; a little more horseradish might have been in order, but the crab carried the dish through (5/10).
I tried the tasting selection of three different cuts of steak (at a little matter of £48), with 4oz of British beef, 4oz of USDA and 2oz of Australian wagyu. Of these I thought that the USDA beef showed best, but these were all good steaks, nicely cooked (6/10). On the side we some well-made chips that were nicely salted, and some decent spinach (5/10). Tuna steak was simple but of good quality and lightly seared, leaving the tuna rare (5/10).
There were half a dozen desserts (£9) on offer. A nice touch was that there was an Austrian dessert, Kaiserschmarren (usually spelt Kaiserschmarrn). This is not a dish I had any experience of, but my wife, who has Austrian ancestry, remembered this from her childhood. It is essentially a shredded pancake served with fruit, in this case strawberries, served with fruit compote. This version passed my wife’s approval test, being light and fluffy; and even the out of season strawberries had decent taste (5/10). This was a lot better than passion fruit cheesecake, which although prettily presented lacked sufficient passion fruit flavour, and had tuiles that were slightly overcooked (3/10). I had contemplated a glass of dessert wine until I saw the prices. A 75ml glass of Rieussec 2005 was a ridiculous £21, for a wine where an entire bottle can be bought for £40, a mark-up of over five times the retail price. Coffee was not particularly good, though you did at least get some competent petit fours for your £5.50.
Service was very slick. Waiting staff were dressed in smart black suits, and could answer most questions about the dishes without hesitation. Topping up was fine if a little pushy, with my perfectly full glass as my main course arrived having the remains of the bottle tipped into it and an accompanying and unnecessarily mercantile “another bottle?” question posed. The same thing happened with the water at the end of the meal; given the price of the water I can see why they want to push more of it, but these little niggles just took the edge off what had been otherwise genuinely excellent service. This was exacerbated when the bill arrived, having service already added but the credit card slip left open.
The bill, with a far from outlandish choice of wine between two, no pre-dinner drinks and no dessert wine, came to £129 a head. This is a lot of money, even for a location with the second highest price on the Monopoly Board. The room is lovely, the service slick and the food was actually a lot better than I had expected, but the size of the bill is what lingers most in the memory.