Embassy, Mayfair

The London nightclub Legends has been transformed into a 'destination' restaurant, with opulent décor and a classic menu. Trouble is, says Richard Johnson, you'd find better service at a Harvester
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Martha's Vineyard isn't an island – it's a state of mind. It's where America's East Coast comes out to play. And adopts a chinos-and-plaid-shirt lifestyle. The celebrities like to clam bake in a rock-lined sandpit on the beach. In theory, at least. In practice, they hire in outside caterers to clam bake for them, given the dangerously high incidence of salmonella in undercooked seafood. The caterers end up producing a "clam bake-style effect" on the Neff indoors. But what the hey.

Martha's Vineyard isn't an island – it's a state of mind. It's where America's East Coast comes out to play. And adopts a chinos-and-plaid-shirt lifestyle. The celebrities like to clam bake in a rock-lined sandpit on the beach. In theory, at least. In practice, they hire in outside caterers to clam bake for them, given the dangerously high incidence of salmonella in undercooked seafood. The caterers end up producing a "clam bake-style effect" on the Neff indoors. But what the hey.

At a clam bake in 1996, a cook gave me a Vineyard lobster to take back to New York. I didn't know what to do with it. But then I found the recipe for lobster Thermidor, with its classic cream, mustard and Parmesan sauce. Its name conjured up the grand dining rooms of times gone by – served by mustachioed flunkies with bow ties and tailcoats. They served it on the Titanic just before the ship went down. And whenever I eat it, I feel like an Astor at the captain's table. So I was excited to see a variation – langoustines Thermidor – on the menu at Embassy.

Embassy is the creation of Mark Fuller, one of the capital's most colourful restaurateurs. He had hits with the Sugar Reef Bar and Grill in Piccadilly, and Red Cube in Leicester Square, and expects Embassy to be another "destination" restaurant. With its colour palette of sand, gold and blue, the interior does manage a contemporary feel. With its choice of decadent prints on the wall, it reminded me of Vienna – think opulent and decadent. Not Midge Ure. And it makes good use of limited space. But now I'm struggling. I soon started to wish I was at a Harvester.

The maitre d' was surly. It wouldn't do him any harm to learn the humility that comes from having to say "Have you ever eaten in a Harvester before, sir/madam?" a thousand times a day. There was no sommelier on hand to advise me on the wine, and "I'd go for white" was the best our waiter could manage. The bottle of chablis I settled on then remained in our ice bucket long after my glass was empty. I know I don't need to go on, but you can keep your wine right next to you at a Harvester. And enjoy the complimentary salad bar.

Rebecca, my vegetarian niece, doesn't like truffles. So she didn't want the cauliflower and truffle soup. She asked, ever so nicely, could someone please rustle her up a salad or something? No they couldn't. Oh well. Could she please have an extra side order of vegetables. No – and while the waiter was at it, one of the two vegetarian main courses was off. Which left Rebecca with the pea and morrel risotto with deep-fried rocket leaves – whether she liked it or not. When it came, it wasn't just the rocket that left a taste in her mouth.

I couldn't fault my langoustines Thermidor. Or my lobster Newburg. Besides, it's one of my all-time favourite stories about how a food name came to be. A shipping magnate named Benjamin Wenburg once encouraged the chef at New York's Delmonico's restaurant to create this cholesterol-choked dish of lobster in a cream sauce with sherry, egg yolks and cayenne. The chef returned the favour by dubbing it "lobster Wenburg". But when Wenburg ended up in a drunken brawl in the restaurant's dining room, the management retaliated by switching around the letters.

I liked the idea of Embassy's menu – a classic renaissance, with everything from beef bourguignon (which was off) to chicken Rossini. But at £50 a head, with wine, I expected more choice from Garry Hollihead, the Michelin-starred chef from L'Escargot. While I'm at it, Mr Hollihead, I don't think the public are ready for your novelty toilets. Your adventure in black and chrome reminded me of Mash in Great Portland Street, where the urinals are made from distorting mirrors. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on where you stand.

I suppose the gents in New York's Royalton are worse. They are in a room with no visible plumbing – except a sink. Resist the temptation to pee in the sink. Look down, and you will see a small grate running along one wall. Approach it, and a waterfall starts flowing. This is your urinal. I have heard that there's a cubicle hidden behind a mirrored panel, but I'm not pushing any panel in there. When I got home from Embassy, I had toilet nightmares. In retrospect, I think it was down to an unhappy union of Newburg and Thermidor. I can't blame Mr Hollihead for everything. E

Embassy, 29 Old Burlington Street, London (020-7437 9933). You can e-mail Richard Johnson at eatwithrichardjohnson@yahoo.co.uk.

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