Le Caprice opened in 1947, run at the time by Mario Gallati, who had launched The Ivy in 1917. However Le Caprice’s current incarnation began in 1981, and is now owned (since June 2005) by prolific restaurateur Richard Caring as part of Caprice Holdings. Andrew McLay has been the head chef since January 2011, having previously worked at Scotts and J. Sheekey, which are also in the Caprice restaurant group. He was in the kitchen at this service. The menu is mostly in firmly traditional British territory, and you can have fish and chips or a burger if you wish, but there a few sligtly more exotic dishes such as a baked sea bass in Thai style.
The wine list was not lengthy but had growers from around the world, bottles ranging in price from £26.25 to £320, with a median price of £48. The average mark-up was a quite steep 3.6 times retail price. Examples of the wines on offer were Trinity Hill 2008 from Hawke's Bay at £34 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £11, Barolo 2005 Brunate Marcarini at £107 for a wine that retails at £29, and Ridge Monte Bello 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon at £214 for a wine that will set you back £107 to buy in a shop. Bread was bought in (I think from Millers, the waiter seemed hazy on the subject) and was decent, but no more than that (13/20).
Gazpacho (£8.75) was poured around a central pile of crab and a little coriander. The gazpacho itself was very good, nicely seasoned, with good olive oil and quite intense tomato flavour; I am not sure that the crab was really necessary, and its subtle flavour was rather overwhelmed by the gazpacho. Of course for truly great gazpacho you need the kind of stunning tomatoes that you see on the Amalfi coast or the Mediterranean, but nonetheless this was very good gazpacho indeed (15/20). Iberico pork loin (£24.25) was served on a bed of spiced arrocina beans and served with slices of chorizo. The beans were tender though the spicing was over-subtle for me, but the pork had plenty of flavour and the chorizo was good too; this can easily be greasy or chewy, but here was good quality (14/20). Allumette (thin chips at £4.25) were crisp and nicely seasoned (14/20).
A trio of desserts (£9) varied in standard. A chocolate mousse with raspberries was wrapped in a chocolate shell, the mousse having very good texture, made from good quality (Callebaut) chocolate that was rich but not overpoweringly so, the raspberries ripe and providing some relief from the richness of the mousse (15/20). Strawberry jelly had good texture though more strawberry flavour would have helped, the ring of jelly having a scoop of reasonable vanilla ice cream in the centre (13/20). Lemon cheesecake was apparently made with Amalfi lemons, but lacked lemon flavour (12/20).
The bill came to £62.75 for lunch for one, with mineral water (£4.50) and coffee (£3.25) but no wine; an irritating cover charge of £2 was also added. It would be the same price in the evening, as Le Caprice has no need of lunch concession menus. With a modest wine the bill would come to perhaps £80 a head, which is not cheap, but not wildly excessive by the standards of Mayfair either. Overall it was a pleasant experience, with a menu of dishes that one might actually want to eat, capable cooking and good service. There is nothing ground-breaking here, but that is the point: plenty of diners do not want to have their culinary perceptions and limits challenged, but merely wish to eat good food in a nice atmosphere, and Le Caprice knows just how to do that.
What follows are brief notes from a meal in March 2007.
Caprice has a long heritage as a popular restaurant to the well-heeled. The L-shaped dining room is quite small and decorated in a vaguely art deco fashion. The menu is very much comfort food: Caesar salad, fish and chips, liver and bacon etc, and none the worse for that. I started with a cylinder of dressed Dorset crab served with a celeriac remoulade. The crab itself was attractive presented and was of good quality, but the remoulade with it was less good, rather too dry when it should have been creamier, and lacking enough of the distinctive celeriac taste that I was expecting (13/20 overall). My dining companion's dishes were also a little mixed, with excellent scallops with a less interesting black pudding, and a pleasant butternut squash risotto.
I tried the fish and chips for main course, and this delivered pretty well: haddock was deep fried with crispy batter, chips were thin and well cooked, while even mushy peas avoided excessive mushiness and had a mint taste that did not overwhelm the peas (13/20). I found my Seville orange cheesecake rather ordinary, rather heavy although with a decent biscuit base (12/20).
Overall this was a perfectly pleasant traditional dining experience, and the service was fine. However with two modest bottles of wine between three and no coffee the bill was still £80 a head, which seemed to me rather high for the level of the cooking. Still, the place was packed out, so the owners clearly know their market.