Bodo's Schloss, 2a Kensington High Street, London W8
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 01 December 2012
Alpine cuisine is not a concept to make you high-five strangers in the street. Combining the gastronomic traditions of Austria, Germany, France and Italy, it has few home-grown dishes to brag about. One is raclette, which translates literally as 'Holding a lump of mature cheese in the fire until it melts, then scraping the result on to a plate with potatoes, cucumbers and vinegar-pickled onions'. How yummy.
Another is fondue, which means 'Dipping small hunks of bread on elongated forks into a melted-cheese soup and eating them with extreme reluctance'. Oh yes, and roesti – a hash-brown pancake whose only interest is that it's pronounced like the surname of the author of Midnight's Children.
So when I heard, from the bearded groovers and finger-clicking hepcats of the features department, that the most happening thing in town this autumn is Alpine-themed bars and restaurants, I didn't spring from my seat. "But you must check them out," they urged. "There's Piste in Archer Street, Mayfair, where they serve vodka shots on skis, too priceless, and everyone who matters, my dear, is going to San Moritz in Soho…"
The new one, Bodo's Schloss, is co-owned by Piers Adam and David Phelps, who opened Mahiki, where the royal princelings could regularly be found, 10 years ago, crawling from the backdoor into taxis with mystery blondes. Adam and Phelps also run Whisky Mist, a disco establishment at the Hilton Hotel, and The Punch Bowl, a lovely 18th-century pub near Berkeley Square.
Neither place is renowned for sophistication in the kitchen, but the Schloss sounded a treat. I pictured a chalet atmosphere, foaming steins of beer, knackwurst, lederhosen, schnapps, après-ski and busty pigletted Rheinmaidens bursting out of their gingham tops.
Well, it was sort of like that. It's beside the Royal Garden Hotel, with an entrance lobby where a charming girl in earmuffs checks your reservations. Inside, three sets of skis announce the theme and your eye takes in wood floors, wood ceiling, woodpiles, stuffed ibexes and waiters squeezed into lederhosen. There's a handsome-looking bar, girls in dirndl skirts and a dark interior that leads to where the dance action is presumably getting under way. (Will there be a hip-hop version of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"?)
"It's like being inside a wooden box," said Angie, "and not in a good way." As we looked around, we agreed that it was all thinly realised, as if the owners had nipped into a shop called Alpine Party Props, rather than pillaged an actual ski resort in Gstaad. Where were the skins, rugs and furs? Why weren't the log fires lit? Why were all the girls so thin? Why were the speakers playing that Tyrolean classic, "Land Down Under"? It was, we agreed, like a Disney restaurant, a place you might end up in after an afternoon at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.
Anyway, the food. There's not a lot to say. The starters offer soup or charcuterie. If you choose the latter, and assume you'll get a cornucopia of lovely Swiss meat for your £8.50, you'll be shocked by the mean little ha'porth of salami, chorizo and Parma ham served on a fish-shaped platter. I could have nipped across to Wholefoods and crammed a plate twice the size for half the price. We had to ask for bread to go with the salami, and when it came, we had to call our nice waiter back for oil or butter.
Main-course 'Austrian Classics' are as plain and boring as an alpenhorn. You can have the attractively named House Dumpling ("Kommen sie here, meine leibchen house dumpling…") with sausages or with cheese. You can have three kinds of schnitzel – or smaller versions called Schnitzel Sliders. Or you can have goulash. Austria-phobes can go off-piste and have a spatchcocked poussin or a steak, but we were determined to go authentic.
Angie's Chicken Weiner Schnitzel was served in a cold frying pan (why?) and accompanied by lumps of potato salad that were actually freezing. The chicken itself was so bland in its breadcrumbed carapace, it had no actual identity. My veal goulash was hot, thank heavens, though the casserole dish in which it came was tepid. The chunks of veal came with spaetzle – Austrian pasta. The combination was neither a visual treat nor a taste sensation. A side order of sauerkraut was overpriced at £4.50. The Apple Strudel With Vanilla Custard arrived tepid and had to be sent back.
"I've eaten at cheap little cafeterias in the Austrian Alps which were a whole lot better than this," said Angie. I know food isn't the main point here, but it was still a dispiriting experience. Of the atmosphere of a ski-bar, of welcoming fires and après-ski larks, there was simply nothing. If you're reading this, Prince Harry – enjoy yourself, but give the food a miss, yah?
Bodo's Schloss, 2a Kensington High Street, London W8 (020-7939 5506). Around £90 for two, with wine
Tipping policy: 'Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary. All tips and service charge go to the staff'
Side orders: Awesome Austria
The upmarket cooking on offer here includes hearty spinach dumplings with organic mountain cheese from Vorarlberg – the wine list is impressive, too.
20 Camden Passage, London N1 (020-7704 1555)
Recapture that old gemutlichkeit at this friendly local which serves up cuisine including crispy pork shank with sauerkraut (£24.45).
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Chef Hermann Aschaber has blended home favourites with great Scottish produce – try the breadcrumbed pork escalope served with cranberry sauce (£13.50).
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