LUTYENS: BLUEPRINT CONRAN
A few weeks ago, HP came home with a bit o’ beef from Jack O’ Shea. He proudly announced that while it was being cut, he had guessed the weight to within an ounce much to the amazement of London’s celebrity meat cutter.
He’s like that HP. I love him, well like a brother, but there is the element of Rain Man about him when it comes to food as he proved last night as we took our seats in the cavernous dining room of new Conran restaurant, Lutyens.
From behind his menu, all I could hear was
“mumblemumblemumble about 120covers mumblemumblemumble”
I asked the waiter and, after checking with a colleague, he came back and said
“A little over 120 covers, sir”
I told you, Rain Man, bless him.
But, I digress.
Lutyens is the latest enterprise in the new direction of Sir Terence, named in honour of Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, one of Britain’s greatest architects and housed in one of his finest and last buildings, the former Reuters building at the bottom end of Fleet St.
It has all the hallmarks of Sir T with vast amounts of money obviously being spent on the restaurant, the bar and a soon to open private members club in the basement. The kitchen is on show and so too is the raw bar with enough seafood on ice to impress even HP, as he was playing “guess the number of clams”
The menu too wont come as any surprise to anyone who has ever eaten chez Terence. It’s decorated with waiters in their finest Frenchie livery and, on the inside, along with the seafood offerings, are enough classic French dishes to make you want to hide a picture of “The Madonna with the big boobies” in a fake sausage.
Knowing that oysters are one of the two things that will kill me (the other being accidentally catching an episode of “Supersizers go…….. on T.V”) HP suggested splitting half a dozen cherrystone clams from Essex.
With places owned and operated by Sir T, the one thing you can always count on is the exemplary quality of the ingredients. So it was with the clams, stunningly fresh and perfectly shucked to retain the juices so many places let drain away.
HP’s snail starter was well priced at £7.50 and comprised half a dozen meaty slitherers with, as it should, a hefty amount of garlic and parsley. As I said before about a similar dish at Bouchon Breton, at its best, it is the sort of unapologetic dish that makes you realise why you love food. Here, although there should be some points deducted for allowing excess garlic and parsley on the dish to burn and make the residue oil bitter, the main event, the snails, were spot on and I stole the shells from HP to suck clean.
It was welcome too to see the return of Coquille St Jacques to a British menu, but less welcome to see what they had done to three superb scallops, which although perfectly cooked were done a disservice by a dry and grainy mashed potato surround and not enough sauce to rectify the situation.
Main courses were an equally mixed bag and strengthened our long held opinion with matters Conran that, the execution of the cooking ranks behind design, service and ingredients. My own choice of suckling pig with apple sauce and crackling was as good as you are likely to find in London. Three thick slices helped along with a little bit of sage through the middle sat on a mound of perfect apple sauce, which retained a sharp bite to cut through the fat. On top, a sliver of perfect crackling that split easily so I could share it with HP.
Where more skill in the cooking was required however, things fell apart quite badly. Veal kidneys had tightened to chewy little bullets and HP prodded at them glumly until one of the staff came to check if all was well in DH world. To their credit they offered, twice, to replace the dish but given that I had wolfed down nearly half of my dish already, HP declined and worked his way though the nuggets of offal declaring that despite the poor cooking, they actually tasted pretty decent.
The sauce with the kidneys was announced as the classic Sauce Diable, which should be laced with lemon juice, black pepper and Cayenne. What we got was little more than a standard and not particularly nice veal demi-glaze that formed a pool around a splodge of unannounced mashed potatoes, which had we known they were coming would have made our side order of frites redundant.
As it were, side dishes, while well priced, were poorly executed. Spinach was acceptable, a tomato and shallot salad was struggling to come up for air in a pool of oil and the aforementioned frites were anaemic and in need of another frying.
The dessert list was a cookie cutter offering that allowed HP to order his inevitable selection of ice cream and me to see what they did with the classic Peach Melba. Again, the ingredients were superb. Raspberries in particular had us fighting to scoop the few we were given from the bowl, but a Peach Melba needs to be served in a less apologetic fashion than the little silver bowl with which I was presented and WHERE was my wafer? Damn them, I had to steal one from HP.
Mint tea and napkin tests were bitch slapped to oblivion by the excellent staff and although I don’t particularly like the new trend of “zonal marking” in service that means you get at least ten different servers during your meal, as long as they don’t mess things up, I can live with it. That never seems to be an issue at Sir T’s places and the staff were well deserving of the service charge that was added to the final bill.
As the name of the posts suggests, apart from a bit of a pun, this is an instantly recognisable Conran opening, great room, great service, top ingredients, adequate if hit and miss execution and a bill at the end that gives you a bit of a shiver. You also get the distinct impression that all the effort has gone into the opening and, as proved with a recent follow up meal at Boundary, this is as good as it’s going to get.
Come on HP, let’s get you home to bed.