Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

RIP-OFF; [Pounds Sterling]108 for a Bowl of Soup and [Pounds Sterling]200 for Lunch for Two ... London Restaurants Are Becoming Ridiculously Pretentious and Absurdly Overpriced

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

RIP-OFF; [Pounds Sterling]108 for a Bowl of Soup and [Pounds Sterling]200 for Lunch for Two ... London Restaurants Are Becoming Ridiculously Pretentious and Absurdly Overpriced

Article excerpt

Byline: FAY MASCHLER

THE restaurant Silk, housed in the former No1 courtroom of Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Court - now part of a hotel - recently opened to scathing reviews. "A carpet-slapping, chair-legchomping, wallet-busting waste of time," said the Times's Giles Coren. " Downright criminal," said the Independent on Sunday's Terry Durack. I put my own oar in along those lines.

Silk's menu is in three sections - Asian, Italian and Middle-Eastern - plus a [pounds sterling]65 tasting menu that treks through the lot, delivering a bill of about [pounds sterling]180 for two with wine and service - totals slip left open, of course.

Business, apparently, is slow.

But Silk is not alone. After three decades of restaurant reviewing, I still get excited when I go out to eat. I look forward to walking into a different world where I can be transported into another person's understanding of a good time and a fine meal. Recently, I have felt let down far too often.

Restaurants in London seem to be moving away from the comprehensible notion of providing good cooking in agreeable surroundings for a rational sum of money, to becoming a branch of show business, one allied to Madame Tussaud's.

At another wildly expensive new place, the unpronounceable W'Sens in St James's, paintings depicting the French Pourcel twins, who own the business, loom over you as the manager attempts to explain the philosophy of the menu of three different styles. As he bores on, you think, I didn't come here to learn about the French colonisation of Indo-China, just get me something nice to eat. That proves an impossibility.

One common denominator in the above establishments, as well as at Chino Latino, Cocoon, Pengelley's, the late, unlamented Shumi, Khew and East @ West, is Asian incursion. It seems that almost every new restaurant that opens wants to be Nobu, still London's most celebrated Japanese restaurant.

It can't be difficult to do food like Nobu, they presumably reckon. Just leave some of the stuff raw, maybe get hold of a range of bottled curry pastes and spend a lot on designer outfits for the staff.

WORSE, if we are like Nobu, they must think, we can refuse to listen to callers after 5pm, we can make customers come at times that suit us, not them, and thus maximise covers. And then we can overturn all the rules for anyone deemed a sleb.

The acceptance of bullying tactics by restaurants - a friend who rang to get a table at the fashionable Amaya for three weeks hence was offered 7.15 or 10.30pm and was told that bookings were never taken for 8pm - plays into a sort of masochism in the British soul where eating out is concerned.

Water at [pounds sterling]6 a bottle, service charge of 15 per cent, portion size suited to a gnat, you want my table back by 7. …

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