Arkady Novikov is a prolific restaurateur in Russia, opening his first restaurant in 1992 in Moscow and now having dozens of restaurants in Moscow and St Petersburg. He has now taken over the large premises that used to be Grand Prix, just south of Berkeley Square. There are in fact two restaurants in the Novikov complex, the other serving Italian food, but this review is of the pan-Asian restaurant.
The large dining room is smartly decorated, with a low ceiling with exposed wood, tiled floor and banquette seating. There are no tablecloths but there are linen napkins; tables are quite close together, though at least they are of a decent size. Lighting is fine, though as we shall see, not to all tastes. At the back of the dining room is an open kitchen, with an attractive display of seafood and vegetables at the front of the kitchen. Chef Jeff Tyler was most recently at the Oriental Hotel Marrakech in charge of their Japanese restaurant. He trained in Japan and has worked at Roka in London. The menu spans mainly Chinese and Japanese styles, with a few other Asian dishes, such as Malaysian style soft shell crab.
The wine list had over 300 wines, ranging from £24 to £3,900 in price, with an average price of £63. Mark-up levels are steep, with an average mark-up of around 3.9 times retail price. Examples were Black Cottage Sauvignon Blanc 2010 at £41 for a wine that retails at £8, Riesling “Heimbourg” Zind Humbrecht Alsace 2007 at £80.00 for a wine you can find in the shops at £19, up to grander wines such as Ornellaia, Tenuta Dell` Ornellaia 2007 at £380.00 for a wine that will set you back £95 to buy retail. Water was a hefty £5.50 a bottle, as was Tiger beer. As we looked at the menu some “kim chee” was brought to the table, which was as far as I could tell was baby bak choi with a sweet chilli sauce, rather than the fermented seasoned pickles served in Korean cooking. The bak choi, were however, tender, and sauce was fine, if quite lightly spiced.
Tempura prawns were pleasant, the prawns cooked though properly and the batter not too thick; this was not of the level you can find in tempura joints in Japan, but was entirely competent (3/10). Har gau (£6), steamed prawn dumplings, were very good indeed, served in the traditional bamboo steamer, light and delicate (4/10). Crab and avocado salad (£17) with cucumber and soy uzu had disappointingly little crab (crab is expensive, but then so was this dish), though the avocado was ripe, but there were also some over-saltiness (2/10).
Fillet of sea bass (£18) with ginger, spring onion and soy was gently steamed, but had very little ginger and just a little soy sauce, so was mostly just steamed fish garnished with shreds of spring onion; the fish was cooked nicely, but it was not terribly interesting in terms of flavour (2/10). Szechuan prawns (£17) were really just stir-fried prawns with some vegetables and a few pieces of chilli; there were no detectable Szechuan peppers. However the prawns were cooked properly and the dish was pleasant, if a little on the tentative side with respect to the chilli (2/10). Singapore noodles had excellent texture, with carefully cooked prawns (4/10). Chinese broccoli i.e. gai lan (£10) was steamed with garlic, and was also competently cooked. One problem in general with this dish is that the broccoli stems lose heat quickly, and the dish was already not quite hot when it arrived. However the stems were cooked nicely and were fairly tender (2/10). A bowl of steamed rice was a little matter of £5.
For dessert, coconut custard with exotic fruit and yuzu biscuit had good coconut flavour, and the biscuit was well made, though the citrus taste of the yuzu was very subtle (3/10). Caramelised apple was very nice indeed, quite prettily presented with a few slivers of apple decorating a cylinder of caramelised fruit (4/10). Coffee was £3.50 for a very small portion of decent double espresso.
Service was capable and friendly, our waitress in particular being very good. The staff here must require considerable patience given the antics of some of the guests, based on our experience tonight. Two tables along from us a couple was brought to be seated, a middle-aged man and his glamorous, much younger, female companion. As she sat down she looked around the room with a “look at me” air that radiated an aura of high maintenance. Within moments the manageress was summoned, as it transpired that the girl found “the lighting harsh” and wished to move to a better table. The lighting at the table was identical to all the others along that side of the room, including ours, so not surprisingly their waitress, while very polite, was a little puzzled. The gentleman stood up, and in a loud voice announced that their table was “like sitting in a gulag”; he may like to read Solzhenitsyn’s “A Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich” to put his lighting difficulties into greater perspective with respect to actual gulags. Despite this provocation the staff were courteous and found them a table elsewhere, fortunately well away from us. I hope they left a large tip.
The bill came to £97 or so per person, with a glass of champagne and a beer apiece, and plenty of food. Despite the Mayfair setting, this is a lot of money for the food quality being delivered, very competent though it was. This restaurant is presumably competing with the likes of Roka, Zuma and Hakkasan, and is not quite at their level. The food itself was entirely pleasant, even if the same cannot be said for all their customers.