I try the new Landau at the Langham hotel

Saturday, December 29th , 2007

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There are few new London openings at this time of year, but one exception is the Landau, a newly refurbished restaurant at the Langham hotel. I was encouraged by the fact that the head chef is Andrew Turner, who seems to specialise in London hotel settings. A couple of years ago he delivered some excellent meals in the rather gloomy basement setting of 1880 at the Bentley hotel, and before that did a good job at Browns Hotel in Piccadilly (which also happened to feature perhaps the best wine list London has seen, with at one point 250 wines by the glass, and a generous sommelier to go with it). 
Though the room is tasteful in a wood-panelled way and the service was generally very good, sadly the meal involved a series of errors of technique and in one case a dish that I just don’t think would ever work well. Guess what – this was Andrew’s night off, which really does raise an interesting question. I always recall Pierre Koffmann shutting the old Tante Claire when he went on holiday, and on the continent I hardly recall going to a top restaurant and not seeing the head chef. Yet in the UK we seem to have accepted the commercial decision of restaurants to keep open, in some cases every night of the week. Of course in theory this could be OK if the brigade is perfectly trained and operate like a well-oiled machine when the boss is off, but I have encountered meal after meal over the years in the UK where a supposedly highly rated restaurant delivered a dodgy meal, and was told that the chef was off that night. I don’t ever recall a menu saying “chef off tonight: 30% discount since a bunch of half-trained junior chefs will be cooking”.  
To give just one example of the basic issues encountered at this meal, a sorbet arrived that was already mostly melted. Now would you serve this at home to your guests? Would you not glance at the thing and say: “oops, back in the freezer with this one”? This is, after all, a restaurant charging around £90 a head (for detailed pricing see the review). At this price I would hope the chef could at least bother to glance at the dishes “on the pass” as they leave the kitchen. This was a great shame as I had high hopes of this meal given the fine meals that Andrew has produced in the past. Any chefs reading this, feel free to post a comment disagreeing if you think I am living in a naive dream-world, but to me this practice is a difference between the continent and the UK at the top level causing inconsistency which does not reflect well on our restaurants. I even recall at one (starred) place being told knowingly by the head waiter “ah, the chef is usually off on Saturdays, as we know that Michelin does not inspect at weekends”. Whether this is true or not, I found it a revealing comment.
Ever since Sabras shut and London lost its best vegetarian restaurant, I have been in search of a replacement for its crown. Rasa Samudra can be very good, but the other contender is Kastoori (pictured), a simple place in the unlikely setting of Tooting. I have eaten here a number of times over the years, and they always seem to produce consistently good south Indian vegetarian dishes e.g. excellent dosas, fine paratha bread, and a wide variety of well-judged curries. On the visit this week there has been no slipping of cooking standards, even though the decor is badly in need of an update. Now all I need is for them to open a branch in Chiswick....
This year I cooked Christmas dinner at home as last year, my old regular the Capital Hotel having exceeded my fleecing comfort level of pricing for Christmas lunch a year ago. Still a 1996 Salon champagne and 2001 Yquem reminded me of the advantages of eating at home; I can’t see myself ordering these wines in a restaurant.  I hope all of you had a lovely Christmas.
Have a great New Year!