Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Orrery, Bluebird, Zinc

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Orrery, Bluebird, Zinc

Article excerpt

TODAY'S restaurant trade seems to have passed into the hands of the empirebuilders, headed by Sir Terence Conran and Marco Pierre White, and of these the greatest appears unequivocally to be Sir Terence. Already he has a dozen restaurants up and running in London, with two more due to open next spring: Coq d'Argent in the City, and the Italian style Sartoria on the corner of Savile Row. As one who has never greatly enjoyed eating at Quaglino or Mezzo - both too vast, impersonal and noisy for my taste - I was fascinated to find out the form of Conran's latest trio, particularly as one of them, Orrery, is just by my home, and Zinc is also not far away.

Orrery is on the first floor of Conran's conversion of the old fire station at the top of Marylebone High Street. His aim, apparently, is to provide Londoners north of the park with the same consumer gratification already available, thanks to him, at Brompton Cross's Bibendum to the south. Thus on the ground floor there is a Conran shop purveying highly priced groceries and domestic artefacts, and Orrery restaurant is a long, thin room on the first floor, looking out over St Marylebone churchyard. An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system, named in the 18th century after the fourth earl thereof, and an example faces you as you enter the restaurant. With just 80 seats, this is not a blockbuster in the style of Quaglino or Mezzo, but neither does it feel intimate. The long, thin room has two rows of tables, one against the wall, with banquettes broken up by screens, the other of larger circular tables by the windows. Sir Terence seems eager to ram home the message that it's uncool to be two. We were two, and art expert Lucy Beazer and I settled at a banquette, facing each other. At least, with my back to the room, I faced mirrors that showed me that Andrew Neil was at a circular table behind me.

Orrery's menu is up-market with a Franco-British accent, a la carte only at dinner, with a set lunch (19.50 for two courses, 23.50 for three) offered at midday. Lucy and I chose from the interesting, and not over-long, carte, and the young English chefs, brothers Chris and Geoff Galvin, did not disappoint us. Lucy chose smoked salmon with deep-fried scallops and pickled cucumber, which seemed an error of judgment on Galvin's part - deep frying the scallops masked their delicate flavour, which was further reduced by the strands of pickled cucumber astride the salmon. My jellied lobster with fines herbes and fennel was a conspicuous success, opulent and delicious with the bonus of a shelled claw beside it. Next, Lucy enjoyed a plump maize-fed chicken with Puy lentils and roast garlic cloves, and I ate some marvellous fillets taken from the saddle of lamb, roasted perfectly pink and served with grilled aubergine, peppers and basil: a poem of a dish. To end, Lucy's black chocolate tart with creme fraiche made her happy, my Grand Marnier souffle, with candied fruits and creme anglaise poured in at service, was slightly stodgy and, at 8, over-priced. Also over-priced was a half bottle of 1994 Mercurey rouge at a dizzy 18.50. With that, aperitifs, an espresso and an excellent fresh infusion of lemon and thyme, and including 12 1/2 per cent for polished service, the bill was 112. If rather costly, it was an enjoyable meal and I shall return.

Bluebird, on the first floor of the former garage in the King's Road, above a mega Conran foodstore, seats 240, but does so more companionably than Conran's other large venues by grouping the tables into sections rather than stretching them out in long lines, canteen-style. …

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