Magazine article The Spectator

Hush, Rocket

Magazine article The Spectator

Hush, Rocket

Article excerpt

CONVENTIONAL wisdom dictates that, after the food, the most important key to a successful restaurant is the location; or 'location, location, location', as property developers like to say. You can knock up the perfect lobster ravioli but the punters need to be able to find it.

A clutch of new London restaurants are gamely trying to disprove the theory by locating themselves in a cobbled enclave which is not actually on the map. Lancashire Court is a pretty, renovated alleyway tucked behind Bond Street and Brook Street, just up the road from Claridge's. But few taxidrivers will know it. Even when they pretend that they know it while secretly rummaging through the A-Z at traffic lights, they will not find it. That is because it was called Horseshoe Yard until the other day, when the developers and Westminster Council decided that wasn't posh enough and renamed it Lancashire Court ('name, name, name', as one of them must have said).

It is a place with a past. Handel apparently overlooked Horseshoe Yard. The neighbours were woken up by a lot more than the 'Hallelujah Chorus' many years later when the narcotically challenged Jimi Hendrix moved in with his guitars. In recent years, it has been best known as a taxi refuelling depot.

Now the place is coming to life again through food rather than music. On one side of the little courtyard is Hush. It may have been a name calculated to win round the council's noise-obsessed licensing magistrates but it was lively enough when I dropped in on a Saturday night. Despite being off the map, Hush was teeming with a largely international crowd who appeared to have bought their clothes from the same place as the restaurant. 'Hush uniforms by Donatella Versace', says the menu. There is no mention of who cooks the food but at least due credit is given to the creator of the staff's Star Trek livery.

Upstairs is a comfortable bar in modish grey-brown shades with a much soughtafter alcove resembling the aft cabin of a tycoon's motor yacht. The James Bond feel is not coincidental. Hush is co-owned by Geoffrey Moore, son of Roger. Next to the bar is a small, 'fine dining' area with room for about 35 people and traditional Mayfair prices (roast turbot: L21.50, wild mushroom risotto: L15). I cannot vouch for this food because all the tables were taken and we were seated below stairs in the larger, low-- lit 'brasserie' area - 'bohemian business dining', as the manager explained.

There the menu is simpler and cheaper: modern British with an Italian streak. Sophie opted for the champagne risotto with a cheerful degree of cynicism. As founder and boss of the London caterers, Sophie Douglas-Bate, she knows a thing or two about risotto and was intrigued by the use of the word 'champagne'. By the time risotto has been cooked properly, it is highly unlikely that much champagne has survived, and so it proved.

'I can't taste any champagne but it's good comfort food anyway,' she said. There was little comfort to be derived from my seared sesame tuna on lettuce and ginger, a watery disappointment with minimal flavour.

Sophie enjoyed the 'hush cake' which followed, a combination of potato cake and monkfish in a chive beurre blanc sauce. But she was unimpressed by Hush's attempt at that modern staple, the rocket and Parmesan salad. 'Rather fizzy', was her verdict on the dressing, which was top-heavy on both balsamic vinegar and lemon. I have never much liked rocket anyway. …

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