Chair, London W2

Chair, a new interior design shop-cum-restaurant, sells an incredible range of tables and chairs. But unfortunately the food doesn't match the furniture
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Now, I have heard of people asking to be moved to a better table, but this is ridiculous. Everyone who comes to Westbourne Grove's newest dining venue immediately wants to move to a better chair. No sooner are they seated, than they leap up and try another for size. Its Goldilocks brought to life, every mealtime. It's not because the chairs are awful, but because they are gorgeous. Every table is set with a different set of iconic seats. People actually book to sit in a plush red Charles Eames moulded plywood chair (1940), Ron Arad's futuristic plastic stacking chair (1998) or Verner Panton's plastic cantilevered chair (1967).

Now, I have heard of people asking to be moved to a better table, but this is ridiculous. Everyone who comes to Westbourne Grove's newest dining venue immediately wants to move to a better chair. No sooner are they seated, than they leap up and try another for size. Its Goldilocks brought to life, every mealtime. It's not because the chairs are awful, but because they are gorgeous. Every table is set with a different set of iconic seats. People actually book to sit in a plush red Charles Eames moulded plywood chair (1940), Ron Arad's futuristic plastic stacking chair (1998) or Verner Panton's plastic cantilevered chair (1967).

Chair is a restaurant that doubles as a designer furniture and lighting showroom, so the tables and chairs are not just décor, but part of the bill of fare. Run by four partners, including Andrew Cussins (founder of the high street custom-made couch company, Sofa Workshop), it's a cute concept kept pleasingly simple. The glass-fronted corner space holds not only the tables and chairs of the restaurant, but a curved zinc bar, and a wall of designer rugs. Downstairs there is more furniture, lighting and fabrics for bespoke curtains and upholstery; a good, flexible mix of European and British names, high and low prices, minimalist and maximalist tendencies.

The menu is an equally good, flexible mix over lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, racking up Brownie points all over the place. The meat and vegetables are organic; fish is either organic or sustainably caught; the emphasis is clearly on the best of British; seasonality is a driving force; and all major ingredients are given provenance. Everything sounds very eat-me, from the West Sussex asparagus with hollandaise to the Prime South Downs organic beef sirloin with bubble and squeak.

For a late Sunday brunch, I sit in Eero Saarinen's iconic fibreglass Tulip chair (1956) designed, like his pedestal table, to "clear out the slum of legs" and "make the air all one thing again". Manor Farm poached eggs (£9.50) come with a silky lemony hollandaise on toasted muffins, with crisp, salty rashers of Sheepdrove Farm bacon. Already, there seems to be a trend towards over-cooking - something that works brilliantly with bacon, but not eggs. For this price, I want them soft-poached, not hard-boiled. A "Sunday roast" of Sheepdrove Organic Farm leg of lamb (£16.50) has a good gravy and feisty mint sauce, but the meat feels as if it's been pre-sliced and kept warm. Ah, but the roasties are tremendous, almost as good as those at Simpson's-in-the-Strand. People wander in at all hours for brunch, and the crowd is happy, chatty and loud, complete with babies in designer high chairs. There is a real "can-do" feel among the staff, and a complete absence of do-not-touch signs or attitude.

I return at night for dinner with friends, all of whom want to sit at different chairs at different tables, which rather shatters the idea of getting together. I convince them to settle into Arne Jacobsen's classic moulded plywood Series 7 chairs (1955), which instantly make me feel at home. Mainly because I sit on them at my breakfast table, at the computer, and at dinner.

Flaws tend to be consistent across the meal, namely over-cooking to high heaven, under-seasoning, or serving straight from the fridge. The butter, for instance, arrives rock-hard. A Bath Farm guinea-fowl terrine (£9.50) is cooked and pressed until dry and crumbly, and served too cold, with cold toast, but with a terrific house-made piccalilli. Organic spinach soup with blue cheese toasts (£5.50) lacks salt and body, although the toasties have character to burn.

The 2002 Ochoa Graciano Garnacha from Navarra, a good honest workhorse of a wine, is steeply priced at £27, and glasses are generously sized. At night the lighting, from coloured-glass bottle pendants, borders on the dim, with little candles providing the necessary light for menu-reading.

Main courses continue the heavy-handedness, with a steak, kidney and Falmouth oyster pie (£16) turning up with an overly browned pastry that shatters on contact with my knife. Under it, the meat is solid, dry and chewy, and the gravy clingy and claggy. No oyster appears to have survived the cooking process. A simple dish of seared red mullet (£18) fares better, served on crushed Jersey Royal potatoes, with roasted cherry tomatoes and salsa verde. The fish could have been cooked less, it's true, but it isn't spoilt, and the JRs are great.

To finish, a small espresso cup of intensely rich chocolate mousse (£6.50) is lush and lovely, and its accompanying shortbread is dry and crumbly. A platter of British cheeses (£ 7) is served British-winter cold.

It would take very little to fix the flaws here. If this were Kitchen Nightmares, I bet Gordon could pull it together in five minutes without even swearing, simply by ensuring the food was not cooked too far ahead of time, or for too long. He can leave the waitstaff alone - they are caring, friendly, chatty, mostly on the ball, and eager to please. But until the kitchen gets it right, you're here for the seating more than the eating.

12 Chair 98 Westbourne Grove, London W2, tel: 020 7985 0400. Lunch and dinner served daily. Around £90 for dinner for two including wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

Second helpings: More restaurants with retail therapy

Nicole's 158 New Bond Street, London W1, tel: 020 7499 8408 Shopping til you drop is no problem since Nicole Farhi installed this popular basement restaurant in her flagship store. With its leather chairs and oak floor, the feel is very Deco, while the food is light and pretty: cornmeal pancakes with smoked salmon, Caesar salad, and crab and avocado salad. Heaven forbid you can't fit into that size-eight frock upstairs.

Forth Floor Harvey Nichols, 30-34 St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 524 8350 On the top floor of Harvey Nichols' Edinburgh store, diners get city views from the Castle to the Firth of Forth. Inside, they have a space divided between casual brasserie/bar and white-clothed dining room, and fine Scottish produce given a modern European tweak: Oban scallops with cauliflower purée, pan-fried duck breast with beetroot risotto and cured salmon with buckwheat blinis.

Ceci Paolo Caffè Bar 21 High Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire, tel: 01531 632 976 Aussie Patricia Harrison has created a foodie oasis in the heart of this picturesque market town, selling cookery books, clothing, kitchenware, furniture and lighting. There is also superb produce from a well-stocked deli and just-what-I-feel-like-eating food from the café: a tartine of red and yellow peppers with torn mozzarella, or a platter of Spanish jamon with piquillo peppers and manchego cheese.

Email Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

Comments