The Yard is the flagship restaurant of the very smart looking Great Scotland Yard hotel, situated near Trafalgar Square in a building that used to be the Met Police headquarters. Robin Gill of Dairy has a consulting arrangement with the hotel but the chef of Yard (and exective chef of the hotel) is Alex Harper. Alex trained at Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and The Ledbury and was head chef of The Harwood Arms for three years. The dining room had an open kitchen at the far end as you enter, and quite well spaced tables, though not very comfortable chairs. The a la carte menu was quite normal in nature, so unlike some fashionable Scandinavian restaurants there were no sea cucumber gonads or ants on offer that might distress any faint-hearted customers. Instead there was an appealing menu with recognizable ingredients.
The wine list had 182 labels and ranged in price from £32 to £600, with a median price of £86. Fairly normal so far, but the average markup to retail price was over 4 times. This is exceptionally high, with a typical London markup being around 3 times, with flashy places in Mayfair maybe 3.3 times. This list has the inglorious distinction of being the second priciest (after Nobu) that I have seen in the capital, at least at the time of writing. Sample references were Domaine de Bellevue Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2016 at £57 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, Niepoort Redoma Branco 2018 at £72 compared to its retail price of £17, and Alvarinho Reserva Soalheiro 2014 at £114 for a wine that will set you back £25 in the high street. For those with the means there was Château Talbot 4ème Cru Classé 2012 at a crazy £290 compared to its retail price of £66, and Nyetimber 1086 Prestige Cuvée 2009 at £600 for a wine whose current market value is £155. By contrast corkage is priced at £30, and given that there is barely a wine on the entire list with a cash markup less than that, corkage is a wise strategy.
Sourdough bread was made daily in the kitchen and was very pleasant, with a nice crust. A canape of Jerusalem artichoke with chives and Exmoor caviar was served in a crisp container of peeled and seared Jerusalem artichoke skin. This was very pleasant, though the caviar was mostly just salty rather than having particularly great flavour. I have noticed elsewhere that Exmoor caviar does not compare well to, say, the kaluga of N25 or the Belgian beluga of Kings caviar. This came with a little cup of Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle oil. The vegetable flavour came through quite well (14/20 for the combined canapes), though I was surprised to see truffle oil on a menu in 2020. Truffle oil is almost always just a chemical called 2,4-Dithiapentane rather than anything to do with a real truffle. Even those rare jars that actually contain a tiny bit of truffle suffer from the problem that truffles lose their flavour quickly once they are dug up.
More impressive was nicely presented ravioli lobster with fennel, resting in a shellfish bisque. The pasta had excellent texture, the lobster was tender and the bisque had good flavour (easily 15/20). Beef tartare was made with fillet of beef from the Lake District that had been aged for 15 days. This was not chopped too finely, and mixed with egg yolk, watercress gel and a herb called reindeer moss that was picked in the Forest of Dean. This had very good flavour, though personally I would have preferred some bolder seasoning (14/20).
An interim course of sea bream ceviche with green apple, wasabi gel, sea herbs, wasabi leaves and bonito cream was quite enjoyable (13/20), though the wasabi flavour was so tentative that it was almost undetectable. I was initially suspicious about the origins of the wasabi, described as English wasabi by our waiter, but in fact this particular plant was grown by the head chef himself in his garden. It is a notoriously difficult plant to grow, and must require considerable love and attention. However, given how limited the flavour was, the chef may be better off just buying some wasabi from the Japan Centre for use in his dishes.
For the main course John Dory was served with Brussels sprout leaves, salsify, Thai-pickled shallots and mash with citrus and herbs. On the side was celeriac and truffle gratin. The fish was nicely cooked (14/20) though the dish it was served in made it a little awkward to eat; a plate would have been easier. I had fallow deer with roasted wine reduction, carrot purée and a bed of beluga black lentils (named because they resemble beluga caviar, but they are actually from Canada). One the side was “hunter’s pie”, which comprised braised venison with parsley mash and breadcrumbs. This was a lovely dish, the fallow deer tasting great and cooked precisely, the carrot puree smooth and the lentils working nicely with the wine reduction. The little pie was also good, with the often overly dominant parsley being nicely controlled and the venison having plenty of depth of flavour (16/20).
Desserts represented a setback after some consistently good cooking up until this point. A souffle flavoured with Seville orange and triple sec came with rhubarb ice cream. This was fine conceptually, and the ice cream was nice, but the souffle was leathery on the outside and not much better on the inside; it was barely edible (11/20, that score bolstered considerably by the ice cream). Chocolate cremeux with clementine and salted caramel ice cream suffered from a disappointingly hard biscuit layer and insufficient citrus flavour from the clementine, which takes some doing given how distinctive a sharp flavour it usually is. The chocolate leaves were fine and the cremeux was decent but again this was a rather disappointing dessert (12/20). Coffee was from Caravan and came with a pleasant Early Grey madeleine. I am not a fan of Earl Grey, but in this case its distinctive flavour barely came through, which may not have been intentional but I was actually quite grateful for.
The bill came to £78 per person. If you had three courses and went for one of the more basic wines on the list, the cost of a meal with coffee and service might typically be around £90. Service from the rather oddly attired staff was friendly and mostly attentive, though wine topping up could be improved. This was a rather curious meal, a meal of two halves as a football commentator might say. The savoury dishes were very good indeed and of a consistently high standard. The two desserts that we tried were nowhere near the level of the savoury dishes, and let down the overall standard of the meal. If this, admittedly quite fundamental, issue can be addressed then The Yard could become an impressive restaurant, though the price point here is undoubtedly high, and the wine list is daylight robbery.