Restaurants: Come to the cabaret

A restaurant inspired by pre-war Berlin and Milan may sound a theme too far, but David Baddiel is won over. Photograph by Madeleine Waller

If you're thinking of taking an elderly relative out for a special dinner in the West End of London, it might be prudent to avoid Axis, the new restaurant at super-stylish hotel One Aldwych. For Britons of a certain age, or anyone with a rudimentary grasp of history, the term "Axis" means only one thing - Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. Forget the Fashion Cafe, here's the Fascist Cafe, and if no one stops them, they'll be all over Europe.

With post-modern insouciance, the people behind Axis, the restaurant, seem to have chosen the name not by mistake, but precisely because of its historical resonances - the publicity blurb asserts that the visual style is based on "1930s Berlin or Milan", and the design makes use of period references, such as the reprinted page from a 1937 copy of the Morning Post which decorates the backs of the menus. Before I drew it to his attention, the wartime significance of Axis's name hadn't occurred to my companion, David Baddiel, who nevertheless arrived in themed costume, wearing a black shirt. But then, he was still rather elated by the fact that the doorman had greeted him with a murmured "Good evening Mr Baddiel" as he made his entrance.

"I love it when they do that," he sighed contentedly, throwing himself down next to me in the Deco-ish bar which looks down over the main dining room, like the upper deck of a cruise ship. In fact, the whole place has a distinctly Cunard Line- like atmosphere, reinforced by the spectacular circular stairwell that descends from street level, and the windowless double-height dining area, in which the people seem very small, and the architecture very big.

Dominating one wall, and adding a sense of drama to the otherwise minimalist decor, is a huge Vorticist frieze of skyscrapers by artist Richard Walker. Giant pillars add to the feel of monumentalist chic, along with the black leather seating, much of which is rather close together - diners planning to put the finishing touches to the Pact of Steel should probably ask for one of the larger separate tables.

The menu evades neat categorisation, save to say that I would gladly have eaten practically everything on it. Chef Mark Gregory made his reputation in New Zealand, which accounts for excursions into Pacific Rim/fusion territory with dishes such as Japanese grilled cod with udon noodles, ginger shoot and dashi. But there's also a strong showing from the Home Front. One dish caught David's eye immediately. "Ooh, look, jugged hare!" he cried, with all the relish of the true Loaded reader.

He was still smarting from his last outing as my professional companion, when I had exaggerated a few mild criticisms he made about one of the restaurants at Chelsea football ground to the extent that the resulting review undermined his good standing with the club's chairman, Ken Bates. On this occasion, however, there was nothing he could find fault with. His choice of starter, potato and bacon soup, seemed rather frugal, but from the smooth, buttery finish, it obviously contained at least three ration books- worth of prime ingredients, and was whipped, in the contemporary fashion, to a cappuccino froth. My tart of poached haddock and cheese souffle was impeccably prepared, crisp on the outside and moussey within, while containing whole chunks of haddock.

The wine list is as impressive as the menu, and fairly reasonably priced, according to David, who fancies himself as something of a buff. We had wondered if it would only contain wines from Germany and Italy, with, perhaps, a few Japanese dessert wines coming in towards the end. But it was the regional French wines which were most tempting, and we allowed ourselves to be guided towards a 1986 Chateau de Canteranne Cotes du Roussillon, which tasted like a bargain at pounds 21.50.

By ordering the jugged hare as a main course, I managed to provide a talking point which kept us off the Nazi jokes for at least 10 minutes. The dish turned out to be a delicate, gamey version of corned beef, bound into a neat circle by some kind of membrane, and served with redcurrant jelly and a gratin of turnip, celeriac and potato. Truthfully, I could say that it was the finest jugged hare I'd ever eaten. I was curious, though, as to why it was described on the menu as "jugged hare 1922", until Jerome, the restaurant manager, explained it was based on a recipe from Queen Victoria's chef. Queen Victoria? 1922? The Axis experience was rapidly approaching a state of total historical meltdown.

David's ravioli - actually one large raviolo - stuffed with prawn and crayfish, was less historically problematic but equally delicious, and we agreed the food was as fine as we'd had anywhere in London. The waiting staff, too, were informed and efficient, though their enthusiasm tipped over into over-solicitousness when one of them sprang forward from the shadows to open the loo door for me.

From the dessert menu, I chose the "19th-century baked rice and apricot castle", a crisp-coated tower of rice pudding with a caramelised base. David was drawn to the idea of blackberry and apple souffle, but changed his mind when he noticed that it took 20 minutes to prepare. "I like my pudding to arrive immediately. I really crave something sweet after I've eaten - it's like being a heroin addict, only less glamorous," he explained.

In the end, he went for what the menu called "an excellent trifle from 1880", figuring that if it had been hanging around for 118 years, it should be eaten immediately. "Absolutely lovely," was his distinctly un-Loaded- like assessment. He inhaled the layers of summer fruits, syllabub and jelly in under five seconds, while murmuring, "They obviously didn't have hundreds and thousands in 1880."

Our bill came to around pounds 50 per head, excluding service, and while I waited for our waiter to return for it, I resisted the temptation to stand up and hold it aloft, intoning, "I have in my hand a piece of paper." As we left, the doorman ushered us out with "Good night Mr Baddiel. Good night Miss MacLeod", and, my goodness, David was right, it does feel good. In fact, everything about the place feels good. I have a suspicion that this time around, Axis will prove to be a winner

Axis, One Aldwych, London WC2 (0171-300 0300). Mon-Fri Lunch noon to 3pm. Mon to Sat dinner 6pm-11pm. All cards. Disabled access

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

    Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

    Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

    C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition