Relaunch of Notting Hill's ill-fated Pharmacy, this time in Damien Hirst’s SE11 gallery, with menus from Mark Hix.
Remember Pharmacy? A restaurant-inside-an-art-installation, co-owned by PR guru Matthew Freud and with designs by fellow co-owner Damien Hirst, it first opened in 1997. With wall-to-wall pills and wall-to-wall slebs, it was, for a brief time, the hot ticket: the sort of place you’d take someone whose knickers you wanted to get into. But selling out to the City within nine months spelled doom (worse even, than being forced to change its name, the Royal Pharmaceutical Company having successfully argued it could confuse anyone looking for an actual pharmacy). It fell suicidally out of fashion, was bought out by a bar chain in 2000 (at which point Hirst jumped ship) and eventually closed in 2003. Don’t feel too sorry for Hirst though: he flogged the fixtures and fittings for a cool £1.2m.
Now, it’s back. And this time, called Pharmacy 2 (I’d have preferred ‘Pharmacy II: the Revenge’). It’s the new restaurant of the Hirst-owned Newport Street Gallery, where he exhibits works from his personal collection.
Aesthetically, it’s still great fun: colourful, creative, thought-provoking. Even after all these years, the concept, with its rows of medications, ‘100 most prescribed pills’ wallpaper and pill-shaped bar-stools makes for an intriguing backdrop.
But Hirst has missed a trick here, in not applying the same ethos he applies in the gallery – showcasing relative unknowns – to the kitchen. It would, for example, have been exciting to see a rotation of up-and-coming chefs shaking the pans; instead, the menu is courtesy of his old mucker, Mark Hix.
Hix’s food is perfectly pleasant: you’ll usually find classic Brit, plus the occasional exotic dish. But of course he’s not actually running the kitchen, and on my visit the cooking was lacklustre: solid, rather than sensational. If Hirst’s intention was to make sure the food didn’t upstage the setting, then he’s got what he wanted.
Highlights included Hix’s signature ‘Heaven and Earth’, a fail-safe combo of mellow black pud over a bed of tangy apple-and-onion mash; and a light Asian broth with a thin pork and chive patty (picture a flat dumpling) floating in it – though the promised ‘Hunan’ spicing was absent. Which was exactly the problem with our main courses (lamb pie, duck curry): perfectly edible, but with sauces that lacked depth. It’s good enough for a country pub. It’s not good enough for here.
Staff are sweet, the music apologetically low – it’s all just a bit safe. There’s still time for Hirst to take a few risks with this place and create something exciting. I really hope he does.
|Venue name:||Pharmacy 2||Contact:|
Newport Street Gallery
|Opening hours:||Mon closed; Tues-Sat 10am-midnight; Sun 10am-6pm|
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Average User Rating
3.5 / 5
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What a disappointment. Terrible service, waited 40mins and had to literally call someone over to get information on the menu. Meals were over priced and a main meal of scallops with three scallops at £26 pounds+ is laughable. I would discourage anyone from going. No atmosphere, almost clinical and food is over priced for what it is.
It's my favourite of those listed because it's so bonkers, but actually it's grim, expensive, and with mean portions. Best local eaterie is in fact the Thai place over the Crown & Cushion in Westminster Bridge Road (specifically, the short Laotian menu).
Impromptu visit, all very eye-popping and IG friendly. We sat at the counter as all the tables were reserved. Everything sounded delish but on arrival the portions were too small to satisfy. My waffle was rock hard but presented beautifully. The staff bumbled around, forgetting all sort of basics. 15min after ordering we had to remind our waiter to go and get dessert. It had obviously just been sitting there, waiting for him.
Overall: All looks, no brains.
A friend and I planned to visit the Newport Street gallery for the Koons exhibition and we completely forgot that the venue was the site for Pharmacy 2. We didn't know what to expect beyond the quirky interiors, but we made a booking - and we're pleased we did. The food was lush! I kept things small with a couple of sides (chips, chorizo) and dessert and I thought the pineapple upside down cake was a wonderful surprise. To be completely honest? It was a very good sticky toffee pudding, but I'm not gonna hold this against them. Otherwise, the service was solid and I'd easily return for breakfast - I think the mains were a bit pricey based on a quick glance at the menu (it is a HIX restaurant), but for a few small plates before or after an exhibition, it's fab. Tables get booked up quickly, so remember to make a reservation.