Those of advanced years or fans of old black and white films may recall that the telephone number of Scotland Yard used to be Whitehall 1212 (at least until the 1960s). In the days when telephone numbers were shorter and phone operators put you through manually, a movie star of the vintage of Alec Guinness would ask to be connected to “Whitehall 1212”. This explains the name of the restaurant, which is in The Royal Horseguards hotel in Whitehall Court, a Grade I listed building dating back to 1884 that housed the original Scotland Yard. Other former residents include H.G. Wells, Stafford Cripps and George Bernard Shaw. “Whitehall 1212” was even the title of a weekly crime drama radio show. The building itself was also the original headquarters of the organisation that later became the Secret Intelligence Service MI6, so it does not lack for history. Given that they make a big point of the Scotland Yard connection in the marketing material and even on the menu, it seems bizarre that the display plates in the dining room are labelled “one twenty one two’ rather than “1212”, as if the designer had not read the brief.
The dining room is on the ground floor of the hotel, with well-spaced large tables and comfortable old-fashioned chairs with high backs. A gentleman called Ryan Mattison is the head chef, and was on service this evening. The wine list included choices such as Howard Park Riesling 2011 at £48 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £14, Domaine Laporte la Comtesse 2012 at £65 for a wine that retails at £25, and Faustino 1 Gran Reserva 1970 at £120 for a wine that will set you back around £87 in a shop. Water was a ludicrous £5.50 a bottle.
The bread was from Delice de France, which despite its exotic name comes from a factory in Southall. An amuse-bouche of goat cheese with beetroot was pleasant enough, but then the kitchen had done little other than just serve it (12/20). My starter comprised scallops with fish egg salad, smoked potato puree, chestnuts, quinoa and puffed rice with burnt butter. I quite liked the garnishes with their mix of textures, but although the scallops were cooked properly they were remarkably devoid of sweetness and flavour (12/20, mainly for the garnish). Poached salmon with watercress, celeriac, dill mayonnaise and prawn crackers was rather better, the salmon itself nicely cooked though again not having much flavour, but its accompaniments were good, such as a delicate prawn cracker and well-made mayonnaise (13/20).
Dover sole was grilled and served with new potatoes and green beans. The fish was cooked properly though it seemed not to be of very high quality, but the new potatoes were stone cold, and a little pot of Hollandaise was inedible: cold and gloopy (11/20 if I ignore the sauce). By contrast my main course was rather good: rabbit loin was tender and was not dry, which is a common problem with this dish. Rib and leg of the rabbit were also served, with roasted chickpeas, purple sprouting broccoli, braised barley and blueberry jus. The sauce had quite good depth of flavour and the broccoli was lightly cooked (14/20).
For dessert, rum baba was seriously dried out, served with mandarin oranges in various forms, which were fine but could not disguise the flaw in the main element of the dish (10/20). Pear tart tatin was better, served with macerated raisins and sultanas, warm butterscotch sauce and tonka bean ice cream. The fruit was not particularly well caramelised but the pastry was reasonable and the ice cream had smooth texture (13/20). Coffee was from Lavazza, which varies considerably in quality by sub-brand, this seemingly not being one of their higher priced ones.
Service was well-intentioned, though topping up was erratic. The bill came to £102 a head with a good bottle of Spanish wine (Rioja Mas La Plana 2006) between us. If you ordered a modest wine then your bill for three courses, water and coffee would come to around £75 a head. This seemed to me far too much given the distinctly uneven standard of the meal.