Automat is probably about as near to a neighbourhood caff as you'll get in Mayfair. Located at the top end of fashionably grand Dover Street, it's a lovely space, with four distinct dining areas each with a distinct mood, from the informal checkerboard-tiled brasserie at the entrance, via the tram-car shaped dining room with its intimate booths, to the large, high-ceilinged, light white garden room which looks out onto a leafy courtyard. It was in this latter that I enjoyed a super lunch with Scotty, aka The Canadian, who has adopted Automat as his lunchtime diner of choice now that he has taken, like a duck to water, to the glamour of a W1-based lifestyle.
Billing itself as 'fusing London's pleasure-seeking social appetite with New York's inimitable style', Automat certainly succeeds in bringing NYC-style casual dining to the capital. The menu covers all the bases, from Stateside staples such as burgers, mac 'n' cheese and crab 'Po Boy' sandwiches to more European brasserie staples like steak tartare and rack of lamb. There's a small - and pricy - selection of steaks which the menu proudly boasts are all USDA-certified, hormone-free and corn-fed, rather like Scotty in fact. True to our respective continents of birth, Scotty went with an American option - mac 'n' cheese at £12, adding bacon for an extra £1 - and I went for steak tartare at £14.
Both were extremely good, and extremely large. Presentation scored highly; I particularly liked the way that my tartare was served 'deconstructed', with the large helping of superbly fresh beef being served naked, side-by-side with a dish of very finely chopped parsley, capers, onion and gherkin with Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces on the side to add according to taste. Given that my taste in steak tartare, and indeed all food, extends to parsley never being allowed anywhere near it, I was glad to have the option to leave it out entirely. The rest however I joyfully piled into the mix, and proceeded to shovel the lot down with the help of the crisp, salty carta di musica bread which accompanied the tasty green side salad.
For afters, Scotty recommended that we share the Mississippi Mud Pie with Pistachio ice-cream (£6) and both his choice and his suggestion that we split it proved wise. It was a hulking great slice of light, almost souffle-like gooey deliciousness, perfectly complemented by the salty-sweetness of the ice cream, and given interesting texture by a scattering of chocolate biscuit crumbs; I struggled to limit myself to eating only my allocated half. Service had, overall, been excellent but when our waitress prematurely tried to clear the plate while it still had a mouthful left on it, I nearly took her arm off.
Being lunchtime - OK, that's not normally an excuse I know, but Scotty was due back at work later this afternoon - we drank modestly, but I thoroughly enjoyed my one glass of Norton Malbec with my main (very reasonable at £6) and glass of Muscat de Rivesaltes with my (half!) pudding. Together with a G&T for Scotty, a bottle of sparkling water - I know, we should be rejecting bottled water to save the planet but until Thames Water work out how to make tap water sparkle there'll always be a place in my life for San Pellegrino - and 12.5% service, the bill was a high-ish £62 but that felt reasonable for the quality and class of what had been an entirely flawless meal.
I liked Automat, as is probably clear, a hell of a lot. It's easy to see why, even on a Monday lunchtime in the midst of a recession , the place was packed with an easy-on-the-eye crowd of Mayfair matrons, hedge fund runners, business lunchers and fathers-and-sons, plus of course (on table 45, a desirable corner banquette) a pair of strapping 6'3"+ gay boys yabbering away about life, love, politics and threeways over mac 'n' cheese and steak tartare. I'd love - and intend - to go back soon for dinner, to see if Automat is as appealing by night as it is by day; getting everything as right as it does, I can't imagine it being otherwise. For those of us who unlike Scotty aren't quite lucky enough to have Automat as our local pit-stop diner, it's certainly worth making the trip to Dover Street to share in the experience.
Automat, 33 Dover Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4NF Tel: 020 7499 3033 www.automat-london.com