Gary Rhodes W1 and Skylon compared

Saturday, July 14th , 2007

brilliant 5472 outside-crop-v8.JPG 

Gary Rhodes has opened a restaurant and also a brasserie in the recently refurbished Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch.  The restaurant is attractively decorated and is ideal for quiet conversation: no wooden floor, no muzak, and generously spaced tables.  Service was impeccable but the food seemed to me good but rather dull, and a bit mean in places. For example you can play the "spot the langoustine" competition with the dish of "scallops and langoustine" pictured. The wine list was also taking no prisoners on price. It would be a good venue for a business meeting where you need to be able to talk in peace, but I wonder whether people will warm to the room. The menu was very flexible and not exorbitantly priced, yet I was expecting something better. The brasserie, incidentally, had an appealing menu but was not cheap, with no obvious lunch concession. 

Skylon is the feature restaurant in the newly refurbished Festival Hall complex (there is also a branch of Canteen at the back of the building).  The room is spectacular, a vast space with lovely views over the river. However despite the strong track record of the executive chef, the cooking was rather dull, if inoffensive. Scallops were bland, a steak was reasonable but not a really high grade piece of meat, and when we eventually got dessert it was a let down, a crepes suzette with pancakes that were far too thick (and the ex pastry chef who accompanied me reckoned were probably bought in). There was nothing actively bad here, but I felt it was below the quality of cooking at the Oxo Tower, with which it will compete.  Ingredients were not great all round, as a piece of wild salmon tried tasted far less good than one I had cooked just a few days before at home - the salmon simply had very limited taste. This is not really on given the chunky prices. 

However it would be a great place for cocktails given the spectacular room. I should also mention that the refurbishment seems to have transformed this part of the Suuth Bank, with even the lesser known new restaurants next to the Festival Hall heaving with people on this Thursday evening. I used to work in Waterloo for many years, and this used to be a desolate concrete expanse that you hurried across on the way to a theatre or film, or back home again. The influx of new places and the lovely Hungerfood foot bridge (a massive improvement on the dismal ironwork thing that preceded it) seem to have made it a destination in itself.  That is no mean achievement given the shoddy state of the South Bank, and Waterloo in general, just a few years ago, where even the Dobermans went around in pairs.

The recently revamped Brilliant (pictured) continues to impress with its smart new decor and terrific romali roti bread. Tandoori prawns and tandoori salmon were both spot on this week, cooked through very well with nicely judged, uncompromising spicing.  The usual North Indian (Punjabi) regular dishes were as good as usual. As ever, the service was excellent.

At the other end of India from the Punjab is Kerala, and at Rasa Maracham they show how completely different a style of cooking it is.  Coconut milk is used in place of ghee, and there are entirely different dishes like uttapham, an Indian pizza made of lentils and rice flour which in India is usually served at breakfast. Despite the dismal setting in a desolate Holiday Inn this is worth a visit if in the area, though the hotel clientele seem completely bemused by the place. A man at the next table to us was accompanied by what some might unkindly assume to be a mail order bride or escort given their difference in ages, but then I am sure Kings Cross has seen stranger things.  He was sufficiently confused as to have the waiter explain in painstaking detail such esoteric dishes as biriani, despite the menu having a lengthy explanation of each dish.  Perhaps he had other things on his mind.