Lanes of London, restaurant review: Street food in a Mayfair hotel - way to refine the concept, guys
Saturday 15 February 2014
And here it is. An early candidate for Most Wrongheaded Restaurant Concept of 2014. It's street food – but in a posh Mayfair hotel. It's all that funky, snacky, global gear that food obsessives have been slavering over in far-flung corners of the capital. Only it's in Park Lane, where any hotdog vendor who dared to stop would be tasered by private security operatives.
Street food for people who don't want to risk the street, or queue, or eat with their hands, or talk to anyone they don't know: it's brilliant. Just for good measure, they've thrown in some trad Brit dishes – steaks, Sunday roasts and sexy diner-ish food. Way to refine the concept, guys.
Lanes of London (even the name is silly – it's not a bowling alley) is part of the Marriott Hotel, although everyone involved is trying to pretend it isn't. The restaurant has its own entrance, and the staff are dressed like illustrations from The Chap; men in narrow jackets and dark jeans, gals in Forties-style drop-waisted tea dresses. Nothing stuffy here! it all screams. We're doing vintage chic AND street food – we're cutting-edge!
Everyone is friendly though, and from the moment we arrive in the almost-but-not-quite casual bar, they put up a convincing show of pretending we're in some lost outpost of Soho House, rather than an international hotel near Marble Arch.
The small, dark dining room has been de-blinged so effectively I thought it was a corridor, and almost walked on into the kitchen. If we were in a street-market, this would be where the barrows are stored overnight. But once your eyes adjust, it's clubbishly attractive, with fine window seats looking up Park Lane.
Head chef Anshu Anghotra, a Marriott incumbent, has been set a formidable task. The enormous menu – I won't describe it as 'his', because it's clearly the work of Siobhan Sharpe from Twenty Twelve – is divided into four famous food streets: Brick Lane (Indian), Kingsland Road (Vietnamese), Edgware Road (Middle Eastern) and Portobello Road (pimped-up diner food). Then alongside the globally-inclined snackage there's all the Mod-Brit stuff, a short vegetarian menu, and anything else you can think of.
Which presents the problem: how can everything on it be done well? The answer, we found, over a dinner which ricocheted from pho to fattoush, samosas to sliders, is – it can't. But most of the 10 or so dishes we sampled were done well enough, and some were actively good.
Our random selection of small dishes from the street food menu arrived curated into something approaching a coherent meal. First, the Vietnamese soup pho, based on an authentically sour-sharp beef stock, and poured from a teapot into bowls bristling with mint, coriander, beansprouts and a shimmer of noodles. The plum-ish chilli sauce to be stirred through to taste left the lips buzzing, the proper Park Lane trout-pout.
A couple of salad-ish dishes duked it out next. In the Lebanese corner, something described as fattoush, though the greasy shards of fried bread perched on under-prepared cos, peppers and tomatoes wouldn't have made the grade on Edgware Road. But the samosa chaat, representing India, was the real deal, the crisp samosa, swoony with spiced potato, broken over a rich chickpea masala and dressed with yogurt and pomegranate seeds. This was better than Brick Lane – this was Drummond Street.
Careening from the snacky to the heart-attacky, it was Portobello Road next, for beef brisket sliders, those trendy one-bite burger derivatives. These were pretty good, particularly when anointed with an oozy nugget of bone marrow and slathered with horseradish cream. The next pan-global face-off, pairing green papaya salad with lamb kofta, wasn't a happy match, the over-salted kebab and tahini-bound baba ganoush barging aside the floral Vietnamese salad.
Our jukebox selection climaxed with a rather polite version of butter chicken, served with a heavenly paratha. Very good with the Meantime pale ale we were glad to find on the menu. This is what's been missing from Park Lane hotel dining, we agreed; beer and a curry.
Desserts tend towards the Olde English; including Poor Knights of Windsor, a scrumptious pain perdu-style bread pudding. With drinks and service, they brought our bill to £100, though with most small plates in the £5-£9 range, we could have paid much less.
The dining room may feel bland, but compared to the chill of the Marriott's lobby, it's the Colony Rooms. Most of the travellers who haunt the hotel's marbled halls will probably never make their way out to Dalston or Brixton or the fantastic Hawker House in Hackney. So it's cheering to think that at Lanes, they'll at least get a glimpse of how London eats, the vitality and range. We came to mock, and stayed for a decent meal. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
London Marriott Hotel, 140 Park Lane, London W1 (020-7647 5664). Around £30-50 a head with wine and service
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