Pavilion, restaurant review: Perfect for power couples striking sexy business deals
96 Kensington High Street, London W8 (020-7221 2000)
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 14 June 2014
It was the toast and piña colada that started alarm bells ringing in my head. The drinks list at Pavilion boasts three Nouvelle Cuisine cocktails with 'edible garnishes'. One is a 'Babycham' which is actually a cider-with-cider-brandy concoction that comes with a brandy snap containing apple jam. The one I tried was the Fresco Colada, a baleful hybrid of rum, coconut and strawberry plus 'vanilla and black olive gel on toast'.
You have to try something so bold and daring, don't you? So I tried it. It tasted mostly of coconut. I nibbled the olive gel on toast, took another slug of colada and – it was horrible. Of course it was horrible. Who in their right mind would drink a sweet cocktail with a mashed-up tapenade? Would you put marmalade on a salt'n'vinegar crisp? At these moments the hapless restaurant critic would like to summon the owners of the premises and say, "Guys, stop trying so hard. There are some combinations that just... don't... work."
Pavilion is a huge experiment in trying to make several things work at once. From the outside, it looks very cool, dark and pin-striped. Inside, you're led past a shop selling homemade bread, cheese and charcuterie, around the spectacular square bar with yellow leather stools, past the opening to what seems a hotel lobby. It's marble, marble, marble, wherever you look – there are some formica floorboards but they're on the ceiling. You discover that it's the entrance to a private members' club, six floors of on-the-knocker commercial endeavour, with rentable office 'suites and pods' (eh?), meeting rooms and everything the cast of The Apprentice would kill to get used to.
Is it a restaurant, though? Our table for four stood becalmed far from any other tables. Couples sat on bar stools, or at the Chef's Counter, where the gastro-fixated can inspect the cooks. We felt isolated, as if, bringing the kids, we'd missed the point, and failed to realise Pavilion is for power couples striking sexy business deals.
The head chef Adam Simmonds is a talented chap whose tenure at Danesfield House won a Michelin star. Given his lofty reputation, the Pavilion menu seemed unadventurous: steak, pork belly with black pudding, scallops, lamb cutlets, corn-fed chicken, roast cod, poached halibut. Excellent British fare, but how would Mr Simmonds transform it into food fit for private business members?
Scallop ceviche with a lemon confit and rival notes of vanilla and camomile was almost too subtle, given a teensy crunch with green almonds and irrelevantly garnished with gem lettuce. Fricassée of smoked and wild asparagus with shavings of morels was exquisite – I've never seen such tender young spears, nor such delicately smoked asparagus – until it was doused with over-salted Parmesan soup.
Salmon gravadlax and crab salad with avocado were bland, the gravadlax neither smokey nor salmony; it cried out for a lemon rather than the awkward presence of a cube of grapefruit. Tightly-cooked quail breasts were accessorised with roasted onions, herby faggots, lightly-poached quail egg and shallot purée – nice, but it resembled an assemblage of doll's-house groceries rather than a dish. All the starters hovered on that dubious cusp between subtle and boring.
Main-course lamb cutlets were pinkly delicious and surrounded by reductions: smoked aubergine purée (OK), anchovy salsa (pungent) and goat's curd (neutral). "I'd prefer more stuff and less purée," said my daughter Sophie, understandably. One liquefied ingredient is enough in any dish; three is overdoing it. Angie's poached halibut was not a success, served tepid and slimy with celeriac purée and cubes of apple. (Fish with apple? Is that a thing now?) Albert's steak arrived with a pickled onion straight from a jar, and a helping of whipped bone marrow; he liked the steak but 16-year-olds have an aversion to bone marrow, and so do I.
By the time we reached puddings (butter milk mousse, yogurt panna cotta with raspberry soup, apple mousse, strawberry parfait, chocolate parfait) I was sick of sauces and purées. Is this Mr Simmonds's speciality– up-market baby food? My tiramisu was, inevitably, deconstructed into a sculpture of glossy chocolate wafer, mascarpone, coffee caramel and Tia Maria. It tasted OK, but wasn't a patch on the Waitrose version. The cheese course featured six mouthfuls – could they leave them alone? No chance: one came with a slice of turnip, one with hazelnut butter, one with a slice of cucumber infused with Hendrick's gin...
As the business-centre staff began hoovering the carpet at around 10pm, we reflected that this expensive dinner had been full of smart flavour ideas insufficiently realised, and too many ingredients reduced to mush. I wish the owners well, but they might like to try giving the modern business clientele a bit more to get their teeth into.
96 Kensington High Street, London W8 (020-7221 2000). About £130 for two, with cocktails and wine
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