A former office block of extraordinary ugliness in the middle of a traffic island has been transformed into a glass obelisk of a hotel, the Park Plaza.
A Travelodge this is not. The public areas have an international shopping mall feel that would be right at home in Dubai, Hong Kong or Sydney, and come complete with a heavily branded coffee shop (by Illy), a sushi bar, large hotel bar – and Brasserie Joël (not a brasserie at all, as it’s not open all day), the flagship dining operation.
The main dining room is cavernous and black-walled, like the inside of a lacquered jewellery box. Most of our fellow diners were group bookings, families with young kids staying at the hotel, plus a table of pals of the chef, Joël Antunès.
The staff were eager to please, but as the evening wore on, it became clear the service wasn’t quite as well-polished as the furniture. One table of prospective diners, fed up with being ignored by the staff, got up and left.
Highish prices and a menu that doesn’t read well (dry rather than mouthwatering prose) might have scared us off too, but we’re glad we stayed because there’s clearly skill in the kitchen.
Meat cookery is a strong point, from the dark pink and tender slivers of quail in a starter salad, to the high-quality beef used in a ‘12oz grill prime NY steak’. Roasted lamb shoulder (£36 for two people) was also simple, but perfectly cooked to tenderness and full-flavoured.
We spotted panisse – Niçoise ‘chickpea fries’ – as part of a starter dish, and wondered if we could have them as a side dish. Three finger-sized chips (between four of us) duly arrived, and very nice they were too. They appeared on the bill at £3.50 for the three, quite possibly making them London’s most expensive chips.
Even less impressive is that the menu descriptions of bistro-style dishes didn’t actually match what we were brought, most noticeably a ‘home made pork terrine’, which arrived without the advertised cornichons and toast. (Our waitress apologised and promptly brought the promised cornichons and croûtons.) There was also no evidence of the ‘courgette trompette’ (flower) advertised with the quail starter – it appeared to have been substituted with a salad of tangled frisée leaves.
We couldn’t help thinking things would have run much more smoothly if the chef had been in the kitchen instead of chatting with his pals at the table next to us for the latter half of our meal.