The dining room is a high-ceilinged, grand affair, and yet from a personal taste perspective I feel they have spoilt a beautiful art-deco room. There are original art deco mirrors on the right hand and top walls of the illustration above, with figures etched into the glass (trees and classical figures). Further mirrors adorn the bottom wall of the illustration. Lighting is effective, from a mix of hanging lamps arrangements, each with three lampshades connected, one of top of each other, with brown lampshades with fur fabric trim. They have even taken the original art deco side lamps and smothered them with orange shades and the same bizarre fur fabric. People can look back nearly a century and admire art deco; I suspect the same will not be true of this Thierry Despont designed room a century hence (assuming it lasts more than a few years before someone redesigns it). There is a rather unappealing brown patterned carpet, and chairs are traditional wooden, with somewhat low backs, with red upholstery (the picture on the web site showing purple chairs is out of date). In each corner was a pretty display of yellow orchids. The tables, while not cramped, are distinctly close together by the standards one might expect, and there are certainly considerably more tables crammed in than when I visited here last year.
On each table were gerbera flowers and a silver pepper and salt pot. Wine glasses are elegant, and the white tablecloths and napkins were suitably luxurious. Crockery was white Villeroy and Boch. There was no muzak but the tinkling of live piano music from the adjoining lounge bar adds to the “grand hotel” theme – at least, unlike at the Bombay Brasserie, the pianist does not periodically burst into ill-advised song. As you are seated by the dinner-jacketed staff you are brought a basket of bread, which is left at the table, and two nibbles: hummus (5/10) and aubergine “caviar” (6/10) with tiny circles of melba toast. The breads were tomato, white, olive and a rock hard ciabatta. This was the first indication of the slightly mass-produced feel that persisted throughout much of the meal: the bread was clearly made some time ago and could only be marked 4/10. The wine list arrives on the table with a thud, being 30 pages in length, extending to around 750 bins. The list is long on choice but short on bargains, with little under £30. For example, Alsace growers are the slightly second string: no Zind Humbrecht here, but Marcel Deiss and Mark Kreydenweiss, yet the prices are more Trimbach and Weinbach. Dessert wines feature Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos at a meaty £50 a half bottle, while de Bortoli Black Noble is £48 a half.
Service was very competent and attentive, though one did get the distinct sense of being hurried through the meal to make way for the next diners (coffee is served in the lounge in order to free up the tables). However wine was topped up and no one could accuse the pace of dishes as being lesiurely. The clientele is a mix of hedge fund managers out on business blended with a few relics of the past; at the next table was group of elderly people with the sort of plummy accents that I haven’t heard since last watching an Ealing comedy.
To begin with there is an amuse bouche of a little cup of cauliflower velouté with wild mushrooms, the soup having good cauliflower flavour and fashionably fluffed up into a froth before serving (7/10). this dish was classy, but lacking the greater intensity of similar offerings at (say) Petrus or Pied à Terre, and a little too salty even for me. Three tortellini of crab were topped with fine slices of new season Alba black truffles, served in a soup dish and then at the table was poured over it a delicate shellfish consommé. In the dish was also a mound of shredded cabbage, carrot and baby rocket. The consommé itself was excellent, the pasta had good texture but the filling had a too-powerful fishy taste rather than the delicate crab flavour that the best examples of the breed exhibit (5/10).
My starter had a base of Jerusalem artichoke risotto on which were five hand-dived scallops, each also topped with a sliver of black truffle. Around the central element of the dish was a ring of little mounds of Jerusalem artichoke puree with very delicate artichoke crisps. This was the best dish of the evening by some margin: the risotto had good rice cooked with excellent stock, the scallops very lightly pan-fried and delicate, the puree of artichokes an intense earthy flavour but the tiny volume meaning that it did not overshadow the fat, delicate sweetness of the scallops. 8/10
A single fillet of wild salmon was (unlike the menu description) served on a bed of horseradish puréed potato, topped with a braised green cabbage leaf and surrounded by batons of braised celery and salsify. A rich red wine sauce was poured around the fish at the table. The potatoes had good horseradish flavour but suffered from being too doughy in texture. The vegetables were tender and the sauce had good texture and taste. The salmon itself was of high quality, pan-fried and slightly pink in the centre (5/10). The dish was over-seasoned and a little too salty, while the potato puree was far from its light and fluffy ideal.
I had black-leg chicken breast, poached and grilled then served on a bed of pomme puree, surrounded by a fricassee of peas and tiny broad beans with a velouté of morels; a handful of baby morels also made it to the plate. The chicken was cooked carefully but was curiously lacking in flavour, though the peas and beans were delicate and the morel sauce was a good match for the chicken. Just about 6/10 level, but I would point out that the almost identical dish at La Trompette was distinctly better by way of benchmark. Again here the pomme puree has too heavy a texture.
A board of twenty cheeses was brought to the table, mostly French but with three fine English cheeses: Mrs Montgomery’s Cheddar, Appleby’s Red Cheshire and Colston Basset Stilton. The French cheeses were mostly classical: St Maure, St Felician cow’s milk, strong Epoisses etc. It has to be said that the cheeses looked slightly past their best but tasted better than they looked and were generally in good condition (6/10). There was a pre-dessert of espresso coffee crème topped with coffee granite; the crème having good texture though the coffee granité did not really add anything to the dish (6/10).
My wife had banana parfait with bitter chocolate sorbet and a hazelnut sable. The parfait was circular in shape, rich in taste, resting on a tiny disc of delicate hazelnut biscuit. The parfait was decorated with a hazelnut and chocolate sugar tuile; atop this was a scoop of chocolate sorbet, decorated with a tiny sprig of mint. To one side was a small longitudinal slice of banana topped with caramelised sugar. The sorbet had excellent texture and a rich dark chocolate taste. The dish overall was 6/10, though the sorbet was better at 8/10. Orange tart had good pastry but the filling lacked intensity. An orange sorbet was better, with smooth texture and full blood orange flavour (8/10 for the sorbet alone). Also served was a little glass of orange in its own juice, with a topping of crème fraiche. Overall 6/10 for the dish.
Both filter and espresso coffee (the former served from an elegant silver pot) had good flavour though I found the espresso just a little bitter (7/10 for the filter, 6/10 for the espresso). There were no petit fours as such, but they borrowed from the main Gordon Ramsay restaurant the interesting strawberry ice cream coated with a white chocolate shell. There were also rich chocolate truffles with a soft centre (7/10 for these).