As I crossed Grosvenor Square on the way to this new restaurant, a large group of flag-waving, chanting protestors were being kettled away from the entrance of the US Embassy. This is one aspect of the current Marble Arch location the Embassy’s staff won’t miss after they move to their new fortress in Nine Elms, Vauxhall. But they will find little else to take solace in, once they’re relocated from Mayfair, because in comparison, Vauxhall’s a Guantanamo Bay for expense-account dining.
Nearly all of our fellow diners at 34 were Americans: the sort who roll up their sleeves to talk loudly about Mitt Romney. But that’s what half of Mayfair is like, a bubble of foreign wealth that bears little relationship to most Londoners’ lives.
This establishment and the international super-rich live in symbiosis. It’s a smooth, luxurious and well-polished sibling of nearby Scotts, also run by Caprice Holdings. And it’s a looker, given a patina of faux-deco to evoke New York, ocean liners and private members’ clubs.
The menu concentrates on doing essentially simple grilled dishes very well. Some of the prices are eye-watering. A gem lettuce salad starter costs £8.50; a grilled wagyu sirloin costs £85. Order carefully, as we did, and you might get away with having a light lunch for two for under £100.
Every dish we tried was top quality and beautifully prepared – but most of the menu is very safe and conservative. The cheapest steak, an Angus rump at £19, was flavourful and moist, the accompanying basket of chips (£4.25 extra) crisp and dry. Seafood ceviche was possibly the most daring option on the menu; the scallops were cut pencil-shaving thin to translucence, the prawns fresh, but the flavours bland. Not even a coriander-sprout garnish gave it some lift.
It may not be anything new in a culinary sense, but as we sat dabbing our fingers on monogrammed napkins, we thought: Serious money can insulate you from the vicissitudes of London life, but it does not necessarily enrich your enjoyment of it.