Despite the superstar chef behind this new opening in London, a confused menu with an eye-watering price tag means it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
It is a long, long time since I’ve come out of a restaurant feeling so comprehensively ripped-off as I do at Jean-Georges at The Connaught, Mayfair. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten comes trailing a stellar US reputation, wowing Manhattan’s moneyed classes (The Mark, ABC Kitchen) and partnering with upscale hotel groups here and in Asia (he had a previous London foray with his Vong at The Berkeley). On his website, he describes himself as ‘one of the world’s most famous chefs’: get you, JG. He has now landed in the oddly shaped, semi-conservatory at The Connaught that used to house Espelette and has always struck me as somewhere for breakfast or afternoon tea rather than a destination restaurant.
We embark on the oddest meal; the only thoroughly enjoyable element the little freebie Comté and truffle croquettes that act as curtain raisers. Crab crostini come piled with flavourless shellfish dominated by its quantities of dill. I’m intrigued by the idea of ‘crispy salmon sushi’ and it’s fun – the squidginess of the deep-fried pucks of rice, the smoky warmth from chipotle – but I like it in the same way I like eating Doritos ’n’ dips in front of Geordie Shore: trashy and unedifying.
Main courses are simply grim: lamb chops – good meat, badly treated by cooking that leaves the fat almost entirely unrendered – come with fried onion rings and dollops of tepid sour sorta-tzatziki tasting like composty milk that has gone off. And a true horror: fontina and black truffle pizza, remarkable for tasting of neither of the main billed ingredients – perhaps they used up all the truffle oil on those croquettes? A greige, vaguely cheesy mushroom sludge on an indifferent base. 29 quid, though.
With its gazpacho (special billing for black pepper, yay!), warm shrimp salad, tuna tartare – the prawn cocktail de nos jours – selection of caviars (30g of Imperial Beluga, £400), fish and chips and cheeseburger, this isn’t a restaurant menu of any sense or coherence. It’s hotel food for rich people who can only be bothered coming downstairs from their stratospheric suites. If it doubled as the room service menu, I wouldn’t be the tiniest bit surprised.
The final indignity – well, before the arrival of the bill – is a dessert of such cloth-eared idiocy it almost defies belief: a peach-flavoured candy floss dome over which redcurrant syrup is poured so that the floss slumps exhaustedly over peach sorbet, peach slices and a curdy set cream strident with almond essence, so sweet it threatens to send my palate into toxic shock. As it all collapses in on itself, it starts to look like something from the wilder fringes of David Cronenberg’s imagination.
When darkness falls, vast, blue-tinged flying saucer light fittings illuminate and the twitchy ‘club’ soundtrack cranks up. It’s like being in a bad Vegas concession rather than one of the world’s great hotels (apart from staff, who are lovely). That bill for two of us, with a couple of glasses of fizz, the second cheapest white wine on the list and one dessert, is £250. ‘Informal gourmet dining’, they call it; I call it a mugging dressed in kidney-shaped oatmeal soft furnishings. Even in the rarefied confines of one of the poshest hotels in the poshest part of London, I defy anyone to shell out this amount for such indifferent food without recoiling. The rich are welcome to it.
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Contributing editor and top food writer Marina O'Loughlin reviews restaurants for Good Food and The Sunday Times.