Editor's note: In the summer of 2012 head chef Tony Fleming moved on, launching The Angler restaurant, which opened in September 2012 at the South Place hotel in London. Hence the review below should be treated with the approriate level of caution. The new chef is Dominic Teague.
Axis is the flagship restaurant of the boutique hotel One Aldwych. The dining room is in the basement of the hotel and seats 80 diners at capacity. Although it is a basement the very high ceiling gives the room an airy feel: on one wall is a line of tall “twigs” in front of a mural, with green padding along the other walls. Tables are generously spaced, dressed with crisp white linen, and the chairs are comfortable. Chef Tony Fleming has previously cooked with some serious chefs, such as at The Oak Room under Marco Pierre White, at l’Escargot and also with Richard Neat; most recently he was at the Great Eastern Dining Room. He has been in charge of Axis for around four years (editor's note - he moved on in summer 2012).
The wine list had just over a hundred wines, ranging in price for £20 to £775, with an average price of £42 and mark-up levels that average three times the retail price. Examples include 2009 Chablis, Domaine D’Elise at £38 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £12, 2009 Cabernet-Sauvignon from Grant Burge at £45 for a wine that has a shop price of around £12, Gevrey-Chambertin, Georges Lignier et Fils 2007 at £85 for a wine that costs £23 to buy in a shop, up to grander wines like 2005 Chardonnay from Konsgaard in the Napa Valley at £220 for a wine that retails at £64. The mostly French wine list has plenty of choice under £50 but then skips abruptly to the grand wines at over £100, with little choice in between. Mineral water was £3.95 a bottle.
The bread was bought in from the Crazy Baker in Willesden. Sourdough, brown bread and rye bread were nicely made, unusually good for bought-in bread (4/10). As we looked at the menu the amuse-bouche of langoustine veloute arrived. This was strikingly good, with intense langoustine flavour, nicely seasoned and with a few pieces of carefully cooked langoustine tail at the bottom of the cup; this was a high quality dish (7/10).
I began with scallops (£13) on a bed of risotto of wild garlic, with a nettle dressing. The risotto had excellent texture, the wild garlic just in season, the scallops of good quality though cooked just a fraction longer than ideal. Nonetheless, this was also an excellent dish (5/10). Also good was a prettily presented crab cocktail (£13). The dish was perched on a bowl of ice, the crab fresh, the watercress salad laced with apple, garnished with crisp goujons of crab (5/10).
My main course was also classy: venison served as both loin and confit leg, with pommes boulangere, creamed cabbage and a rich sauce thickened with a little chocolate. The loin of venison (£22) had good flavour, the confit was meltingly tender, the cabbage balancing the richness of the venison (5/10). The vegetarian main course was an Indian-influenced dish. Slow-cooked celeriac (£19), spinach fried with cumin, cauliflower bhajias, dhal and a hint of chilli. This was nicely made, the vegetables retaining their texture well, though the spicing could have been a lot punchier (4/10).
The dessert menu was very appealing. Gingerbread soufflé (£7) was carefully made, light and cooked through properly, with plenty of ginger flavour, served with good vanilla ice cream and a somewhat superfluous banana shard (5/10). I really enjoyed my lemon tart (£7), the pastry of high quality, the lemon filling having creamy texture yet nicely acidic, garnished with confit lemon (6/10). Coffee could be improved upon, though this was served with a couple of enjoyable petit fours, including a good orange jelly. Service was classy, friendly and efficient. Our waiter (Henry) was knowledgeable alert and attentive, and topping up happened effortlessly. The bill came to £102 a head, including pre-dinner drinks, a bottle of wine and a glass of dessert wine.
Overall I was very impressed with my meal tonight. The cooking was generally at the 5/10 to 6/10 level, and there are Michelin starred restaurants in London that deliver food worse than this. The menu had some interesting variations on the classics, ingredients were of nice quality and kitchen technique was strong. For all the grand setting, the price of the food is not high: £9 starters, £19 main courses and £7 desserts are at a price point lower than some London gastropubs, yet the cooking here is genuinely classy. Axis is a restaurant, perhaps due to its hotel setting, that does not have any media buzz. It is almost a stealth establishment by the standards of hyper-active London restaurant marketing, and deserves much more attention that it currently receives.