SEVEN PARK PLACE: COMPACT AND BIJOU
I don’t really get on with most high-end, fahn-dining in this city. The faux reverence, the funereal atmosphere, the prices, the snooty service. I sometimes wonder if it's all just a ploy for rich people to try and distance themselves from the riff-raff.
All this would be fine and dandy if the food were any good but usually it's so overwrought and overworked that the taste of it is as far removed from the raw materials as I am from having a life. It was with not a little foreboding then that I went for a meal at Seven Park Place.
Set in the swanky environs of the St James Club in er, St James, it's now the home of William Drabble previously head chef at Aubergine, a joint famous for its connection with El Gordo (Google it).
Located in the same space that was the short-lived Andaman - a place I never visited and never wanted to visit - I thought I'd been seated in restaurant Siberia when I was shown to my table. There's only twenty-six covers here so the room is small. Really small. It was like a bar where you might wait before going through to the real dining room. It was decorated in a style that HS describes as “the best taste that money can buy” i.e. pretty hideous. Then they bought the bread.
The scene was set, therefore for yet another evening of mediocrity and even as I sat there tugging on a tough baguette I was already mentally rolling up my sleeves and sharpening my quill pen (or MS Word as they call it round our way). Except things got a lot better. It wasn’t perfect and there were enough anomalies to make me screw my face up in a quizzical manner but there also enough highs (oh the highs) to make me want to return.
In common with most high-end gaffs there's a tasting menu in addition to the prix-fixe both filled with the gear that the great and the good expect at this level: foie gras, scallops, turbot, you know the drill, but the Prix Fixe looked more a bit more interesting especially as it had Grouse on it. The kitchen kindly let me have a few dishes in starter portions and the bird as a main course.
The first thing that was apparent was the quality of all the fish I tried. A fillet of Red Mullet looked beautiful, was cooked perfectly - just under so that it was firm. Sounds simple but it’s amazing how many places can’t cook a fillet of fish properly.
It was surrounded with some little squid rings and topped with light, crisp sage beignets. The only problem was the saucing which was from the school of dribbles and schmears. Once my taste buds had noted the brilliance of the fish cooking they got bored pretty quickly thereafter. I’m all for restraint and less is more in cooking but a plain piece of baked fish can easily become just so much dead protein.
A Tortellini of Lobster served the best Cauliflower I’d ever tasted (no, really). It actually made me wonder if I’d had proper Cauliflower before or just some ersatz version. There was more of the sauce this time – a rich truffled butter one. I actually held off breaking into the Tortellini (Tortellino ?) to defer my gratification. Unfortunately one I broke into it, the pasta, instead of being silky-smooth was a bit rubbery and the lobster inside a little over-cooked.
I noticed this dish going out to a number of tables with large parties so I suspect the kitchen couldn’t give them all the due care and attention they required. A bit poor, though, when you’re only dealing with a couple of dozen covers.
Still, things were back on track with a Fillet of Turbot . A beautiful hunk of the fish was cooked just so, with tasty little Girolles and (Hallelujah !) properly sauced. The Langoustine didn’t have that telltale iodine tang of the best examples but wasn’t bad and it was cooked properly too.
I’d moaned a bit about not been given any amuses before my meal and given how rich dishes sometimes are at this level they might have been right in avoiding a potential M.Creosote situation but the fact was that the cooking had such a light touch that I felt as light as a feather (no tittering at the back there)l. I was making moaning noises of a different sort after my main course.
I’ve had some very good dishes during the year but none have really stuck in my increasingly failing memory until tonight. The menu entry read tersely “Roasted grouse with blackberries and thyme”. Sometimes the best things life don’t need long descriptions (Jamón comes to mind).
The first part of the dish were the breasts of the Grouse. Cooked to an even deep pinkness, they’d also been hung long enough to give them quite a strong gaminess and thus, complexity but still allowed you to taste the meat. Pardon my French but They. Were. Fucking. Delicious.
Next, and underneath the breasts, was a big rissole. All the offal components of the game bird had been minced, but not too finely, mind, and formed into a patty which was bread crumbed and fried. Pardon my French but…well, you get the idea.
There was some finely chopped cabbage, some Blackberries to cut the richness and a Madeira sauce to bring everything together. Perfect.
I would have been happy to end the meal there on such a high note but was interested to see what a talented chef could make of pudding. Usually, they’re a sugar overload, sending you off into the night feeling just a little bit nauseous. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much here. But curses, another excellent dish with no gratuitous use of sugar. Just beautifully poached figs, a little spiced sponge thingy and some excellent cinnamon ice cream.
Good, but expensive coffee and a little Grappa had me waddling off into the night a very happy camper indeed.
If you can get your head around the fact you’ll be eating in someone’s pimped-up box room with no atmosphere and your dining neighbours are liable to be mostly dull men in suits (er, that’s me) then you’ll enjoy some of the best haute cuisine in London at the moment. Just make sure you insist on your amuse-gueules.