The Buddha Bar started life in Paris in 1996, the creation of entrepreneur Raymond Visan. The bestselling Buddha Bar mix compilations by French DJ Claude Challe ensured the success of the club, bar and brand – and its expansion. This included a branch in London, which closed a couple of years after opening in 2008.
This new Buddha-Bar is merely ‘linked’ to the original (which possibly explains why this second London incarnation now uses a hyphen in the name). The upper-mezzanine level is a bar while the basement level is an oriental restaurant.
The interior is Orientalism in its most obvious and crudest forms, while also trying to touch discordant references in popular culture. The result looks like a warehouse decorated after a trip to Homebase. A screen wall is made of breeze blocks; a curtain of metal Buddhas is held together like chainmail; a film poster from ‘Trainspotting’ jars behind the bar. But worst of all was the dreary Europop music – we suspect Monsieur Challe wasn’t responsible for this playlist.
The restaurant tries to convince that pan-Asian cuisine is back in fashion, and although the execution of our dishes was good, prices were simply too high and portions too small. A tiny serving of black cod costs £27.50; some foie gras and eel sushi rolls £22.80. Budget to pay around £50 a head on food alone if you’re eating. There are no bargains on the drinks lists either.
The service on our visit showed poor training. Our booking had been lost; a simple drinks order took half an hour to not appear (we had to repeat the order); staff seemed intent on rushing us to our dining table then were over-eager in telling us about their exciting new dining concept – which is sharing dishes. They were friendly, though. Our ever-changing succession of greeters and waiters hit double figures by the end of our visit.
This Knightsbridge site has, in the last decade, been three other high-profile restaurants that didn’t last: the Chicago Rib Shack, Mocotó and Isola. We wonder how long Buddha-Bar will live before it’s remixed and reincarnates.