Restaurants: A bad business

Greed is good at Conran's new City restaurant, but definitely not when faced with the egg in jelly. Photographs by Nicola Levinsky

ast month Terence Conran

launched Coq d'Argent, his first

restaurant in the City of London, and announced that it would be the perfect place for business types to celebrate a successful deal. The world's financial markets immediately plunged into chaos, but it would probably be over-estimating Sir Terence's influence to try and establish a connection.

The restaurant is on the roof of No 1 Poultry, the controversial development designed by the late James Stirling on the former site of the Mappin and Webb building. Emerging on the sixth floor - having been waved through by the uniformed doormen downstairs - Helen and I were disoriented to find ourselves in what appeared to be a big, cold room with a blue ceiling, but which was actually one of the Coq d'Argent's five roof terraces. Once we were inside, in the reception area, the evening's autumnal gusts of wind were replaced by a full-on blast of excited chatter from the packed restaurant.

Despite an understated taupe colour scheme, the dining-room has the sleek, hard-edged glamour of a Manhattan cocktail bar, an impression reinforced by magnificent views of the City skyline. The trademark Conran design puns have been kept to a minimum, though there is a customised poker-chip coat-check tag, crystallising the greed-is-good atmosphere of the place.

We found our friends Tony and Andy hunched disconsolately over margaritas, attempting to recover from a bruising encounter with the "clipboard Nazis" at the lift downstairs. Indeed, seated in a room full of sleek City boys, the two did look decidedly chancy. On all sides, large groups of predominantly male co-workers were kicking back at the end of a hard day's trading. Even the sprinkling of power-suited women looked as though they'd had their eggs frozen in order to concentrate on their careers. As Helen observed, "You wouldn't come here for a quiet romantic dinner."

The menu emphasises regional French cooking and wines, and includes oysters and the inevitable crustacea. There's also a selection of caviar including Beluga at pounds 92 a portion. Of the starters, our waiter had recommended the pounds 9.75 Coq d'Argent salad, but Helen discovered it to be nothing more than a standard-issue assembly of mixed leaves, around which lurked a few meagre slices of chicken and roast lobster. An identical pile of leaves formed the basis of Andy's artichoke salad, with artichoke hearts and pickled walnuts standing in for the cold cuts. Both plates arrived copiously sprinkled with chopped chives, as though this personal touch would compensate for the perfunctoriness of the preparation.

But worse, far worse, was my own starter, whose terse description on the menu - "eggs in truffle jelly" - gave scant warning of the horror to come. I suppose I was imagining some delicate little quails' eggs nestling in a delicious bed of truffley richness. What arrived was a big Pyrex bowl filled with a shimmering, cold jelly that looked, smelled and tasted like chicken stock straight out of the fridge. In its depths sat a single cold poached egg. My companions crowded round it like concerned relatives round a hospital stretcher. "Oh, God - it isn't even cooked!" breathed Helen, transfixed, as the egg broke open to release a stream of runny yolk into the jelly. No truffle flavour was discernible, though it may well have been lurking somewhere behind the all-powerful taste of animal fat. It was impossible to manage more than a few mouthfuls, and when my waiter came to take away my barely-touched dish, he apologetically admitted that no one ever ordered it. "That explains it!" cried Helen. "They panicked and just gave you whatever was in the fridge!"

The main courses were an improvement, though still patchy. Tony and Helen did best, he with a rump steak topped with a garlicky tangle of stewed cepes, she with a glossy and substantial coq au vin. Andy found his lobster saute with tarragon and cream overcooked, and his verdict on the food was echoed by all of us: "It's both basic and annoyingly fussy." True to form, I made the worst choice, with a pot-au-feu that arrived looking so forlorn and pallid that Helen was moved to exclaim, "Oh, Tracey, you've done it again!" As well as the traditional boiled beef and vegetables, this version included chicken, pork belly and sausage, but the only vivid taste came from an accompanying green herb sauce. "Dry human meat in washing-up water," is how I described the dish in my notes, though I was probably still feeling unsettled by the egg in jelly.

Our disappointment with our food seemed to be isolated, however. Around us, an atmosphere of noisy enjoyment prevailed as the Alpha male from each office held forth at his respective table. Our neighbours all appeared shamingly energetic, given that they'd probably been at work since six that morning. Several of them were yapping into mobiles, despite an explicit request on the menu not to do so, and some were juggling their tiny phones with outsize cigars. "It all feels very Bonfire-ish," as Tony commented.

To finish, we shared a couple of reasonable desserts - an authentic tart of almonds and plums, and a slightly soggy cherry clafoutis. The pudding list, though, is dwarfed by an amazing selection of post-prandial drinks, which spans everything from vintage cognac at pounds 95 a glass to such secretary- pleasers as Kahlua, Baileys and Creme de Menthe. Coffees came with a plate of madeleines, which I didn't dare sample in case a Proustian rush should bring back the taste of my starter. Like someone who's been through a near-death experience, I found myself obsessively reliving the horror of my egg-in-jelly moment, eventually forcing Andy to silence me with the stern reprimand, "Un oeuf is an oeuf!"

Our bill came to a recession-defying pounds 258, which even without wine worked out at pounds 45 per head. Rather than attempting to justify this reprehensible sum to The Independent the next day, I was tempted to follow the example of Nick Leeson and flee the country. In fact I've started to sympathise with the rogue trader since my visit to Coq d'Argent - I'd never realised how easy it is to run up huge losses in the City over the course of a single night

Coq d'Argent, 1 Poultry, London EC2 (0171-395 5000). Lunch Sun-Fri 11.30-3pm (closed for lunch Sat), dinner Sun-Fri 6pm-11pm, Sat 6.30pm- 11pm. Disabled access. All credit cards.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established managed services IT...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003