Magazine article The Spectator

New York Designer Eating

Magazine article The Spectator

New York Designer Eating

Article excerpt

The Four Seasons restaurant on East 52nd Street occupies one of the more beautiful rooms in New York City. Like the great British state rooms of previous epoques, it is so high-ceilinged as to be virtually cubic. Unlike them, its grace is in its simplicity rather than its ornateness. The best place for dinner is the Pool Room, the centrepiece of which, it will come as no surprise to learn, is a small pool about three metres square. The ostensible pointlessness of this eponymous pond, with its surprisingly charming artificial trees (with seasonal leaves) at each corner, is belied by the babbling-brook noises and gently playing background reflections it provides.

My wife and I had an excellent view of this engaging folly because we were seated next to one another on a strange banquette for two so that we faced the pool rather than each other. Conversation was therefore the surreptitious, sideways affair it must once have been for spies on benches in St James's Park. Lighting is low, linen heavily starched and the clientele - of both sexes - sober-suited, white-shirted and serious. The three groups of birthday revellers we spotted being solemnly presented with an enormous ball of celebratory white candy floss were hushed and reverential even in the face of this surreal act.

Would that the food in such a calm and sophisticated setting were cooked by other than an imbecile. Diver scallop dumplings ($18.50) `in a spicy ginger soy glace' were served with a bizarre pile of raw ginger and raw garlic soused in soy sauce. It is not for nothing that these vegetables are usually at least lightly cooked. The dumplings themselves were the flabby, grey, taste-free efforts of a child for whom the act of creating dumplings is clever in itself regardless of how they might feel inside someone's mouth. There was no hint of the explosion of heat and tang which occurs when one punctures the neatly pinched output of even basic London chain restaurants like the New Culture Revolution.

Crisp soft-shell crab tempura ($38.50) was unseasoned and unsauced, the batter being horribly granular as well as inappropriately crispy. The real thing is to be found at Royal China on Baker Street or Queensway, where it is many times better at a fraction of the price. My wife compared her sauteed veal steak ($38) to 'a thick slice of bleached beef. It was indeed as if, along with its blood, all the flavour had been cleverly removed from the young animal's flesh by some hitherto secret culinary procedure. Unseasoned and overcooked, it was accompanied by a morel and potato hash the complete absence from which of morels made her dangerously angry.

The only decent dish we had was a crab cocktail starter ($21), which she described as `perfect crab: big chunks of succulent white crab flakes held together with virtually nothing'. This illustrates three things. First, it is remarkable that meat so sweet should be found within an overgrown seainsect which cannot even walk straight. Second, it is a blessing that it is so cheap crab is a bargain the world over. Third, even this kitchen was able to put boiled, cooled crustacean on a plate without spoiling it.

Warm mango strudel ($11) wasn't a strudel; rhubarb and strawberry tart ($11) was accompanied by an orange sauce so tart as to be positively corrosive. …

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