London. Home to the “Mother of all Parliaments”, epicentre of world democracy, the very bedrock of freedom of choice. Except, that is, on its restaurant scene, where menus are emerging offering minimal choice and, in some cases, no choice at all.
First came Le Relais de Venise ‘L’Entrecôte’. One restaurant in Paris has expanded into a global mini-chain, with London branches in Marylebone and The City. Serving only a green salad with walnuts to start, followed by two helpings of steak frites with a special, secret-recipe sauce, the only decision diners at L’Entrecôte face is how they want their steak cooked.
Fittingly enough I visited the Marylebone branch through a lack of choice; finding myself in the area with a friend between Christmas and New Year, L’Entrecôte was about the only restaurant open. Initially wary - L’Entrecôte polarises critical opinion - I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed the experience.
The simple salad, dressed with a bracing mustard vinaigrette, cleansed and awakened the palate, while the steak was tender, the chips hot and crispy and the sauce - a sort of tart pesto - very tasty. It was also excellent value, at £21 for two courses; a regular stream of chauffeur-driven cars dropping off well-dressed families proved that even London’s super-rich like a bargain.
Burger & Lobster in Mayfair is the newest addition to the no-choice scene and it’s been an instant smash. Serving (the clue is in the name) only superlative burgers and whole grilled or steamed lobsters with a side salad and chips, the £20 flat price - exorbitant for a burger but peanuts for crustacea - has seen the restaurant getting through almost two tonnes of lobsters every week since opening at the end of 2011.
As with many recent openings, no reservations are taken and waiting times for one of the high diner-style tables are growing along with the restaurant’s reputation for superb quality - to which I can attest, having tried the lobster both grilled and steamed, as well as the only deviation from whole lobster or burger, a delicious, decadent brioche lobster roll. I was underwhelmed by the burger, finding it somewhat so-what for £20, but with superb cocktails and an excitable egalitarian atmosphere there’s nothing not to love here.
|Ceviche's Pisco Bar by www.paulwf.co.uk|
Ever the assiduous reporter, I tried a classic Pisco Sour - Pisco, egg white and lime juice - and a Pisco Punch, made with pineapple syrup and grapefruit bitters. Each was excellent, and very different despite using the same base ingredient. I certainly didn’t feel that my freedom of choice had been compromised although my sobriety certainly was; I should perhaps have had rather more of the tasty marinaded dishes from which the restaurant derives its name.
If, as I suspect they do, these no-choice venues signal the start of a trend, it’s one that I’ll be embracing. The sheer range of culinary options available in London is dizzying at the best of times. Far from being a hardship, having a few locales where the decisions have already been taken strikes me as being the ultimate luxury.
Posted by +Hugh Wright