Editor's note: this has now been rebranded as The English Pig, but still with Johnny Mountain involved.
Atrium is set within the 4 Millbank complex near Big Ben, (not, as I discovered, in the Millbank Tower down the road). The building is essentially an office complex populated by media companies, and heavily used for parliamentary broadcasts. The restaurant itself is accessed via the main office entrance, past the office reception desk and down a flight of stairs. It is, as its name suggests, in the atrium of an office, a quite large space with well-spaced tables, with a terrace level and bar attached. The building has an impressive glass roof, and so the space is airy and light, reminding me a little in style of the Landmark hotel in Marylebone. It does feel like you are eating in an office canteen, and essentially this is what it is, the bulk of the trade being done at lunch via the assorted media office workers and their guests. It was previously an unloved brasserie, and from November 2011 has been relaunched with an executive chef who, suitably, has a higher media profile. In particular he has appeared on BBC's The Great British Menu, memorably tackling a heroically elaborate dessert involving a complex array of spun sugar.
Chef Johnny Mountain set up The English Pig restaurant in September 2010. Prior to that he opened Mosaica@theFactory in Wood Green, and trained at several top restaurants, including Mirabelle, The Fat Duck and Alistair Little. He now splits his time between Atrium and The English Pig, though there was no sign of him on the evening of my visit; chef Matthew Weston, who previously worked at The English Pig, cooked for us tonight. To say that the marketing campaign for the restaurant has been low key would be an understatement, and on this Thursday evening, when central London restaurants were buzzing, there were precisely two diners here all evening: myself and my wife.
The mostly French wine list has 70 offerings, ranging in price from £19 to £150, with an average price of £40. Mark-ups varied significantly, but the average mark-up was three times the retail price. Example wines were Pinot Grigio Villa Blanca 2010 from Hungary,at £23 for a wine you can buy in the high street for just under £7, Chablis Premier Cru 'Fourchaume' Pascal Bouchard 2008 at £54 for a wine that retails at £16, and Chateau Talbot 4eme Cru Classe St-Julien 2008 at £89 for a wine you can find in the shops for around £30; the latter is what we drank.
Bread was made from scratch, and was a mixed bag. Rosemary focaccia was dense in texture but tasted of rosemary and was enjoyable, a white bread was pleasant, but a dark rye with treacle was flawed. The bread had a hard, crisp outside, and really should not have left the kitchen. I admire restaurants that make their own bread, but they do need to do it right: the focaccia was fine, but overall the bread was inconsistent (12/20).
Fried duck egg with chanterelles on toast (£6.90) had a pleasantly cooked egg, but the mushrooms with it were cooked a little long so were rather stringy and, while there were doubtless some chanterelles, there was greater volume of other unannounced and less exalted mushrooms, such as enoki (11/20). King prawns (notionally £6) with chilli, aioli and grilled lemon were roasted in their shells and indeed were cooked capably enough: there was very little chilli, but the aioli had a decent enough garlic kick (12/20). Sea bass (£14.50) was cooked all right, grilled and served with some reasonable mash (12/20). Confit duck leg with borlotti beans and purple broccoli (£13.90) was also competent, the duck a little dry but at least tender, but the beans were cooked a little longer than I would have liked, and the purple broccoli was only just warm when it arrived (11/20). Chips (£2.50) looked distinctly on the dark side of golden brown, but were cooked through quite well and tasted fine (13/20).
Desserts raised the game. Lemon posset (£5) was served with warm poached cranberries and shortbread biscuits. The balance of the posset was quite good, not too sweet and not too acidic, and the cranberries worked well, while the biscuits were also fine (14/20). Rhubarb with ginger cake (£5.50) was also good, the ginger cake moist and having plenty of ginger flavour, the rhubarb providing enough acidity to balance the richness of the cake (14/20).
The bill came to £92 a head, but to be fair this was with one of the best wines on the list, and it would be easily possible to eat here for £60 a head with a modest wine. The bill was a little disorganised, with the garlic prawns supposedly £1.50 each, but the four prawns appeared at £7.80 on the bill. Our waiter was helpful and friendly, though we were of course the only diners, so we did have his undivided attention. Overall this was an odd experience. It is always peculiar to be the only people at a restaurant service, but if I ignore that then the meal itself was objectively quite good if inconsistent. Desserts in particular show that there is some talent in the kitchen, and prices are not excessive by central London standards, with main courses £12 - £17.50. However the downs as well as the ups of the meal meant that it is hard to really recommend Atrium at this time. At this price point you can eat better.