Eating out: An error of Titanic proportions

TITANIC: Titanic, 81 Brewer Street, London W1. Tel: 0171 437 1912 Open Monday to Friday from noon to 2.30am and Saturday and Sunday 6pm to 10.30pm. Three course set menus, lunch pounds 25, dinner pounds 30. Average a la carte price, pounds 30 per person. Credit cards accepted
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The Independent Culture
APART FROM maybe Don't Come Here You'll Really Hate It, it's quite hard to think of a more hubristic name to give your new restaurant than Titanic. I mean, it does rather invite remarks like "pass the sickbag" and "abandon ship" and "sunk on its maiden voyage".

I suppose Marco Pierre White must think he's so big and double-bow-sealed and steel-riveted that he is immune to such critical icebergs. And perhaps he is. So I'm sure he won't mind at all if I tell you that Titanic is a total waste of life and only worth visiting if you're the sort of saddo who thinks it's essential for your credibility to be seen in the latest MPW restaurant.

And if you are such a saddo, you'd better get your skates on, for Titanic's future looks a mite uncertain. It is currently facing legal action from both Oliver Peyton (jolly cross because Titanic is in the same building as his Atlantic Bar & Grill) and from the Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff (concerned because, obviously, there's a huge danger that people going to the restaurant might mistakenly assume that they're going to the ship which sank in 1912).

When Pharmacy encountered similar problems, it had to briefly rearrange its name to Achy Ramp. But I don't think the anagrammatic solution would work for Titanic. I Cat Tin wouldn't exactly encourage public confidence in its kitchens. Anyway, we know what it's going to call itself if Titanic is disallowed because, the name is already printed on the top of the menu: White Star Liner.

Which to my mind is the name Marco should have chosen in the first place. White Star Liner smacks of precisely the sort of nautical, Art Deco sophistication the restaurant's sophisticated nautical Art Deco interior strives so hard to recreate. Titanic, besides all its other unfortunate connotations, simply smacks of that shitey movie starring Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio.

My first grumble concerns the booking arrangements. A few hours before I went, I tried moving my 1pm table forward half an hour. But this wasn't possible because all the tables were fully booked. So how come no fewer than three of the neighbouring tables-for-two were empty for the duration of my incredibly long lunch?

And when I say incredibly long, I mean incredibly long. Caspar the journalist and I were at our table by 1.20pm. We didn't dawdle and we only had two courses and coffee, yet we didn't escape until nearly 4pm. Perhaps we wouldn't have minded so much if the food had been worth the wait. But it wasn't. The whole menu reads like some obscure post-modern joke - bang bang chicken, French onion soup, bresaola, smoked salmon blinis, fish and chips, chicken Kiev, fillet of sea bream with citrus fruits, olive oil and coriander - as if some nutter has gone to every other restaurant within a half mile radius, snipped one of the dishes from its menu and pasted it onto the one at Titanic.

Caspar was underwhelmed by his quiche shellfish beurre blanc . "I know it said quiche on the menu," he said. "But I didn't expect it to be quite so quichey." And I can't say I got all that excited about my salad of crispy duck and watercress. It was just like the crispy duck you get in Chinese restaurants, only with watercress and without the pancakes or crispiness.

During the million-year gap between the starter and the main course, we surveyed our surroundings and found them wanting. The clientele wasn't groovy enough; the decor was impressive but a bit cold and lonely. As Caspar said: "I hate the film. But being here really makes me want to escape to the lower decks and have a roistering time with the Irish passengers."

Another of the menu's post-modern, ironic wheezes is to serve the sort of dishes that students eat when they're drunk, only in posh versions. Caspar's brochette of lamb provencale with pommes puree with olives, for example, was basically a tarted-up kebab. (The meat came in big, square juicy chunks; the olive mash was nice enough, but it was all a bit boring for my tastes.) I went for the Marco Pierre White equivalent of a burger: steak hache - and I'm not making this up - a la McDonald's with fresh tomato ketchup. I ordered this primarily because I wanted to see how closely MPW's home-made ketchup approximates to Heinz (there's virtually no difference and I admire this hugely: what a gloriously pointless exercise to home-make your own Heinz) and secondly because I love Big Macs but have never been able to eat them since discovering that "pure beef" really means "pure beef": testicles and all.

What would be really clever, I thought, was if Marco managed to replicate the echt charm of yer actual McDonald's burger, only using lean, presumably organic, properly-hung British beef. What I actually got was standard, upmarket-restaurant hamburger, served in a poncy tower arrangement with bread on the bottom and crispy onion rings on top. Nice but dull. The chips that came with it - the same size and shape as Jenga woodblocks, stacked in a Jenga-like tower - weren't cooked properly in the middle. And the home-made gherkins weren't nearly as much fun as McDonald's bottled version.

Also, my burger arrived medium-to-well-done when I'd asked for it medium- rare. Our sweet, chic, red-haired French waitress was gratifyingly eager to replace it and seconds later, her boss waitress came over, apologised for the delay and promised to knock it off the bill. But when the bill came, it was still there (at pounds 9.50) and we had to wait while the problem was sorted out. The computers were playing up, apparently.

Wine: I asked another waiter whether he knew about the wine list and he said yes. So I asked him to recommend a mid-priced white, not too oaky, not a Sauvignon blanc. He suggested the Cloudy Bay. A Sauvignon blanc. We tried again. "He's making this up as he goes along," whispered Caspar. Indeed he was. He steered me towards a white Crozes-Hermitage. "Good white Burgundy," he said. Except it's not. It's a Rhone. And I really don't mind waiters knowing nothing about their wine lists. I just wish they'd admit it.

Coffee: my decaffeinated cappuccino was bilge.

Oh, and here's the funny part. While all this was going on, who should be sitting just a few feet away from our table, wearing a covert coat, smoking a fat cigar? Marco Pierre White himself.

So there we are. Titanic: friendly, if erratic, service; reasonable-ish prices; mediocre grub; very ship-like decor; no atmosphere. Don't bother.