What's with the apostrophe? The new French restaurant at the Grosvenor House Hotel comes with a mid-name hiccup, that calls to mind with a shudder the band Hear'Say. It doesn't make much sense: Bord'eaux sort-of means "on the edge of waters", but there's no water nearer here than the Serpentine. But it's clear that the chef Ollie Couillaud (who used to be at La Trompette, and has wielded a mean cleaver at Tom's Kitchen and the revamped Dorchester Grill) is keen to bring a garlicky whiff of the Aquitaine coast to this venerable Park Lane temple.
It certainly looks the part. The owners have bought up the fittings and contents of a French brasserie: the monochrome tiles are well-trodden, the wood panels and red plush drapes suitably heavy, the chandelier and the bronze dancing girl très authentique. But the huge, high-ceilinged room is rather bleak and glum, its railed-off eating areas resembling a high-end college refectory.
The menu heads straight for the harbour, offering rock or native oysters, prawns, lobster, whelks and great groaning platters of seafood (£70 for Le Royal, featuring enough whelks and almond clams to sink a trawler) before settling into a predictable line-up of French onion soup, moules marinières, snails, salt cod brandade, smoked salmon and charcuterie. Some Basque dishes – a piperade au riz and a fish stew – remind you that Bordeaux shares a cuisine with northern Spain, while the main-course cassoulet and andouillette promise some heavy peasant flavours. But it's so boring. You could have found this array of dishes in any French town in the 1970s, or 1960s or, indeed, 1950s. Duck confit and croque-monsieur are all very well, but sacré bleu, this is a five-star hotel, not a Relais Routier truckstop.
My friend Robert's warm duck salad with poached egg and "meat juices" (as opposed to duck juices?) was good and tender, if not especially warm. I ordered the langoustines marinaded in lime and basil. They were an array of six king prawns, speared on two sticks, served with a tomato salsa. You could taste the lime (and see the basil) but they were floppy rather than al dente, and the salsa was as slushy as Russian salad.
The sommelier was a nervy cove, who apologised for the meagre carte des vins, and explained how they were going, any week now, to cram the shelves with premier cru clarets. But he recommended a nice Entraygues et Fel 2005 with a very Burgundian wallop of Gamay grape. Robert tried the onglet à l'echalotte, and found the steak, though virtually drowned under shallots, perfectly tasty, its spectacular dark exterior revealing shockingly blood-red innards. As the waiter set down my main course, he said ominously, "I'll be back for your comments." (When did waiters, instead of asking if everything's all right, start expecting a critique of the food? How can we persuade them not to?)
I'd chosen the roasted rabbit, stuffed with squid, served on a Parmesan and onion risotto out of pure curiosity. You can see how a chef might have thought it would work. Rabbit can be rubbery in texture; so can squid. Would their latex qualities produce an exquisitely bouncy hybrid? No such luck. The flavours refused to blend. The squiddy bits and rabbity bits combined with knobbly lumps of overcooked rice from the risotto, until my mouth was full of ball-bearings. Surreally, someone had added a garnish of cold squid, waggling legs and all, as if it had snuck in, incognito, from a nearby seafood salad.
We ended with some pungent Stinking Bishop from the cheese trolley, and a crème caramel which came surrounded by a dozen Sauterne grapes that brought an intrusive sweetness to the eggy crème. It was one more example of the Bord'eaux getting things slightly off-centre, slightly overdone, over-sauced, over-onioned, over-sweetened. I suspect they need some tougher management, to give the place some zing and rein in the chef's ideas a little. And they might want to re-think the apostrophe. Sorry, apos'trophe.
Bord’eaux, Grosvenor House Hotel, 86-90 Park Lane, London W1 (020-7399 8460)
About £120 for two, including wineReuse content