The Reform Social and Grill opened in 2012, within the Mandeville Hotel in Marylebone. It is loosely inspired by private clubs such as the Reform Club in Pall Mall, which at one time was the HQ of the early Liberal Party. However there is no connection other than the name between this restaurant and the venerable Reform Club. The head chef at the Reform Social and Grill is currently Serge Neale, who was formerly pastry chef here, but he was not present tonight. A Josper grill apparently features at the heart of the kitchen.
The wine list ranged in price from £19.50 to £130. It had irritating ambiguity in places, and an inexcusable absence of vintages on the list. Chassagne Montrachet Les Chevenottes is one of 50 “climats” in Chassagne Montrachet, not a specific wine. There are a couple of dozen different producers of this wine, their labels varying in price by a factor of at least two, so who knows whether the particular one they serve here is a good buy or not? However, at £130 the answer is “probably not” in any case. Berri States Unoaked Chardonnay of unknown age was £25 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for maybe £7, The Federalist Visionary of similarly mysterious vintage was £63 compared to its retail price of perhaps £24, and Chateau Cantenac Brown was £119 for a wine that will set you back around £44 in a shop, but could be anything from £29 to £55 for recent vintages. This omission of vintages basically says to me: “We reckon that our customers are clueless oiks when it comes to wine, and writing in the vintages requires paper and a writey thing, so let’s not bother and hope no one notices”. A restaurant would not label a dish “some kind of vaguely whitish meat cooked in some sort of way; we’re not sure exactly”, so why treat the wine list this way?
Talking of menus, there was a five course tasting menu - ‘”unavailable tonight”. There was also a Yorkshire Pudding menu, an interesting idea. “Unavailable tonight” when I inquired. The a la carte choices, at least, seemed to be within the grasp of the kitchen. This turned out to be only partly true.
A chickpea and wild garlic Scotch egg was an unusual idea, served with English summer truffle mayonnaise. Summer truffles have little flavour at the best of times, and these would have been tough to identify in an olfactory line-up. However the Scotch egg itself had an egg centre that was soft, a pleasant filling and a reasonably crisp exterior (12/20). This was better than a smoked salmon Scotch egg, whose filling was tasteless and dry. This came with a Hollandaise sauce, at least in name, and a rather bizarre pair of asparagus spears on a board. These, in July, were not obviously in season, were limp and, for reasons that elude me, served cold. A sadder accompaniment to the Scotch egg is hard to imagine (10/20 overall, much lower for the asparagus).
The main courses could not maintain even this fragile standard. Fried chicken is surely not the most culinarily ambitious dish a professional kitchen can prepare: KFC manage two million a day globallly. Yet here, notionally with a decent chicken called Kentish Ranger, what appeared here had a curious combination of stringy, overcooked, tasteless chicken with limp, soggy skin. It was borderline inedible (7/20). Some gravy on the side was actually all right, but the chicken was beyond redemption.
Cod and shrimp burger came in what seemed to be a catering bun, the filling as dry and disappointing as a bar in Utah (9/20). With both main courses were, it has to be said, entirely competent chips, fairly crisp and with a modicum of seasoning (13/20).
At this point I reckoned that desserts would be a touch risky, unless Michel Guerard himself was doing an unlikely impromptu stage in the pastry section. Cheese was fine, but the double chocolate sponge cake that we did sample had rather soggy texture and needed deeper chocolate flavour; it was still better than almost anything else we had tried (11/20). Service was friendly enough in a rather bemused way. The waiters were certainly not stretched in a dining room that resembled the Marie Celeste. The bill, which to be fair had several things removed from it, came to £46 a head including wine. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head would be about £55. This is not in itself an outrageous sum, until you realise that you could have four excellent meals at nearby Diwana Bhel Poori for less, and still have change for a beer. Overall this was, not to put too fine a point on it, a shambles of a meal. The menu as written did show some inventiveness, but much of it was “off” tonight, and some of the dishes that did appear were laughably bad. To be fair, they can at least cook a decent chip. This is kitchen in great need of, er, reform.