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Roux at Parliament Square

Westminster
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Just in time for the news that our new government has cut and frozen its ministers’ salaries, this restaurant opened a merry stroll away from the Houses of Parliament. Its location is clearly intended to take advantage of the armies of mandarins and powerbrokers who stalk the streets of Whitehall, because the only other people who populate this area are tourists with their cameras trained on the Palace of Westminster clock tower.

Michel Roux Jr, the Anglo-French super-chef behind this operation, runs Le Gavroche, one of London’s best French restaurants. His father Albert and his uncle Michel together opened Le Gavroche more than 40 years ago. The two also opened the Waterside Inn in Bray, one of Britain’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, now run by Michel's son Alain.

So expectations are high – this family of chefs is famous for a commitment to technique, ingredient quality and faultless service. It’s this which makes Roux at Parliament Square all the more disappointing.

The restaurant is housed in the listed Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Building, but the ground-floor restaurant only overlooks a wall of Whitehall Portland stone. The dining room reflects this expanse of grey in its own expanse of grey – it’s stiffly elegant, although the lighting doesn’t allow for much intimacy.

Neither does the overbearing service. It was nervously formal, verging on intrusive: when I poured my own water at one point I could feel waiters’ eyes boring into me.

The menu offers three courses à la carte for £55, a tasting menu for a tenner more. At these prices, the food should have been much more memorable.

The various free interludes were the best elements of the meal. After some good bread (from Rhodes Bakery in Greenwich), there was a free mini-starter of clams escabeche with shaved fennel and citrus – a light and playful mouthful.

A starter of duck egg with asparagus and morel butter was the best dish, the soft poached egg melting beautifully into the mushrooms. Another of quail with pickled radish, hazelnut and pomegranate was interesting and summery, but the ingredients felt disparate and needed something to tie it all together.

Our main courses were disappointing. Roast halibut with razor clam, fennel and muscat came with a generous but overcooked and dry portion of what is a very expensive fish. And roast best end of Cornish lamb with Jersey Royals and tongue salad was just bland – the lamb was delicately tender and the crunchy morsels of tongue provided good contrast, but as a whole the dish never really got going.

Pre-dessert, we were given a small scoop of strawberry sorbet sitting in a shallow pool of vanilla panna cotta and strawberry coulis – sharp, sweet and refreshing.

The cheeseboard (included without supplement) was compact and unremarkable, although all samples were perfectly kept. But a dessert of passion fruit souffle with white chocolate ice cream tasted overwhelmingly of eggs and flour.

It’s early days for this restaurant, and with a chef as undoubtedly talented as Michel Roux Jr involved, it it should be able to evolve into a much more exciting proposition. But if I found that my MP was planning to taking someone here on expenses, I’d advise against it as a gross abuse of the public purse.

Venue name: Roux at Parliament Square
Contact:
Address: RICS
London
SW1P 3AD
Cross street: Parliament Square
Opening hours: Open noon-2.30pm, 6-10.30pm Mon-Fri; 6-10.30pm Sat
Transport: Tube: Westminster tube
Price: Meal for two with drinks and service: around £160
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