Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl
Haven’t heard much from the spiky-haired one in recent years. Apart from an indifferently received brasserie the last place I went to with the famous Man U supporting, TV chef ‘s name was Rhodes 24 which was merely ok and pretty typical of a what a London Michelin 1-star is these days: unlikely to frighten the horses or the many expense-account diners. But now he’s back and this time he’s serious. Two or even three stars are the aim for his new joint Rhodes W1.
I’d lost track of when this fine-dining resto was going to open but luckily my friends (yes, I do have some) Sam and Scott – who have eaten at more Michelin *** restaurants than I’ve had er…hot dinners - had got a res for the first night with a spare place for me.
So is he going to get his extra stars ? Well, all the infrastructure is in place. The room is very opulent with lots of little details that a design naïf like me would never appreciate. I liked the mirrors and the over-the-top chandeliers above every table, although as Sam pointed out they’d never be able to move the tables around or squeeze in some more covers as the chandelier configuration wouldn’t match. Some natural light would have been a good idea as well. The atmosphere though was quite muted, even funereal, exacerbated by the lack of punters (barely half of its 45 seats were occupied). There was service, lots of it, that wasn’t too obtrusive and someone to show me to the bogs - which is nice when you’ve had a couple stiffeners beforehand. I was worried this latter service would extend to unzipping me and shaking when I was done but apparently this only happens in Parisian three stars restaurants nowadays.
You choose your meal from a standard prix-fixe, from which you can get two or three courses or, more interestingly, from a menu of 12 small tasting dishes which you can use to construct your own tasting menu. These can also be interleaved into the standard menu, which is what we did.
First, though all the little extras which you expect at this level of dining. Sometimes, these can be the best part of the meal. Not quite on this occasion, but they were terrific: little tastettes of foie gras, truffled cheese crispy things and croquettes of eel with a horseradish cream that had us grabbing it back from the waiter and dipping our fingers into the bowl to finish it off. A sprightly little pre-starter of crab in a mayonnaise with avocado and grapefruit was also quite pleasant. So far so enjoyable. Not so good was the interminable wait for our food proper. I suspect the large table of VIPs may have held things up but in any case it was at least an hour before we got our starters. It interrupted the flow of our meal and we ended up having to order another bottle of a lovely White Burgundy that Scott had chosen. Not a great tragedy but it did mean I ended up drinking a bit more than I intended. Such are the dangers of fine dining. Ho Hum.
When they eventually came the starters were ace. A Salad of sweetbreads with freshwater crayfish and soft quail’s egg would not have been out of place at Le Champignon Sauvage. A Ragout of Oysters likewise. With samphire and herbs and a sauce of great depth it was a perfectly balanced dish. Doing a little experimenting we also discovered the crispy sweetbreads worked really well with the sauce in this dish. So, three taste sensations for the price of two (huzzah).
From the small plates the star (in my opinion) was the Steamed turbot with a Mackerel Ravioli. Beautifully cooked fish was topped by a delicate ravioli in a little sauce of buttered baby leeks. Barbary duck with turnips and foie gras wasn’t as good but was enjoyable nonetheless.
Most of us are familiar with Gary Rhodes and the dishes that he cooks on TV but these belie his actual forte which is a lightness of touch in his preparation especially with regard to seafood. Unfortunately we had all plumped for meat for our main courses and they weren’t so good. They certainly looked the business but the taste just wasn’t there. The salt roast pigeon was served almost raw and was a little tough, I gave up eating it half way through the first breast. The accompanying white asparagus was overcooked. Very pedestrian. The restaurant deducted it from the bill without a quibble.
The other two main courses produced similar reactions. It seems the meat had been cooked sous-vide producing lovely looking meat but without much else going for it. These are the kind of dishes commonly found in most of London’s fine-dining restaurants and, as was the case here, they never produce a particularly spectacular result.
By now I was tiring – just can’t hack it these days – and wanted nothing more than a warm cup of cocoa and bed, but somehow I bravely soldiered on. I may have missed a pre-dessert at this stage.
Nothing in the pudding list appealed but I was persuaded to have the Cherry trifle with iced Jersey cream. It was a witty play on the classic dish but as midnight was approaching the joke passed me by with nary a wave. There were also some PFs which at any other time would probably have been declared delicious.
Chef’s first words to us after the meal were “So you didn’t like you main courses, then ?” I may have incoherently mumbled something back about not being taken with sous-vide dishes but what I did learn was that Mr Rhodes is only going to be here for a month. There’ll be new openings in Dhubai, LA and London while in between he’ll be pitching a TV series to the BBC. Whew. Spreading yourself a bit thin there, Gazza?
I know nothing about running a restaurant but I would have thought when going for the top rating you would need to be in the kitchen, refining and improving his dishes, overseeing what goes out. Even El Gordo was at stove until he got his stars. And there is the small fact that the place is called Rhodes W1 (not Hughson W1 or even The Cumberland Hotel Restaurant). One thing is sure - before the month is out I’m going to return to eat all those fish dishes I didn’t have the first time round and drink a little less wine. Maybe.