The room is a considerable improvement over the rather stark decor that Zen Central had. The cream walls had a tasteful pattern painted on, the lighting was carefully judged, and there was a brown patterned carpet. The menu was very appealing, £55 for three courses, with plenty of dishes that sound tasty. The wine list had excellent growers but was heavily marked up (69% gross profit before counting the service charge is actually very high). Examples were Alin 2003 at £95 for a wine that retails at around £30, Chateau Musar 1999 at £68 for a wine you can buy in the shops at around £15, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir at £85 for a wine costing less than £19 retail if you look. The 19 page list featured particularly well chosen growers, and given the limited storage space available was impressive in its scope. Vintage Tunina 2005 was an example of the strong Italian section of the list, a wine that retails at around £28. Bread was a choice of foccacia, plain white and carta da musica (4/10). A smoked aubergine puree offered with this was seriously smoky (2/10).
Nibbles appeared: deep fried balls of mushroom risotto, with a nicely crisped coating and a pleasant filling (5/10). I began with Parmesan risotto made with carnaroli rice, rocket pesto and roasted pine nuts. The texture was very good, the rice having absorbed the stock well, the pesto adding some flavour but not overwhelming the dish (6/10). This was better than a pleasant but rather simplistic pressed rabbit mosaic that was crying out for a chutney, and a rather odd dish of grilled foie gras and sweet and sour tomatoes. However a Cromer crab ravioli had excellent pasta, pleasant baby leeks, a meat jus and a rather tiny blob of celeriac puree (5/10).
My Gressingham duck breast was nicely pink, served on a confit of duck leg and potato cakes, but I missed the advertised mustard fruits, though an unadvertised layer of spinach worked well (5/10). Roasted turbot was a fine piece of fish, with pearl barley, summer vegetables and a smoked ham stock that was salty even for us salt lovers. Grilled Cornish red mullet had a base of very good peas and mint and a white grape vinaigrette. Rack of Welsh lamb was served with a tortelloni of the shoulder, grilled courgettes and cooking juices.
The cheeses were supplied by La Fromagerie, but we skipped these tonight. Dessert included a very enjoyable zabaglione with figs (5/10), while my fellow diners tried frozen panna cotta with black cherry compote and grated pistachio, as well as excellent English strawberries with white balsamic jelly and mascarpone sorbet (though they did not need a pointless pouring of dry ice over them, a waste of the special effects budget in my view). An apricot soufflé was very well executed, rising perkily out of its dish, served with Amaretto de Saronno ice cream. A sort of post dessert of assorted ice creams was an odd mix, with classics like strawberry, pear and blood orange sharing a plate with basil, a quite sharp blackcurrant, banana ice cream and a thoroughly unpleasant combination of chocolate with black olive (El Bulli has a lot to answer for). Coffee was excellent (7/10) served with some good tuiles and a few chocolates, as well as an excellent little tiramisu with frozen coffee.
Service was very capable. One irritation was found by one of my companions, who was offered a glass of champagne while waiting and would have appreciated having it pointed out that the “blanc de blanc” was actually £25 a glass. We mentioned this, and while the sommelier seemed concerned and appeared to hint of some form of reparation occurring when the bill arrived, the glass was charged in full when it did. I don’t think the price in itself was absurd, but for those not working for hedge funds it would have been nice if the price had been clearly spelled out.
Overall, this was a very pleasant meal. Nothing was badly cooked, the menu was appealing, and there were plenty of enjoyable dishes. Yet somehow the meal never lifted itself above 5/10 level, which is consistent with my previous Angela Hartnett experiences. For £116 a head I feel that a higher level of culinary experience can be had, even in Mayfair.