Restaurants: Conran's latest: a star player for Chelsea?
Saturday 05 February 2005
Their joint project - the Bluebird Dining Rooms - is definitely more Beamer than Mini Cooper. Formerly the restaurant of the Bluebird private members club housed in Conran's Chelsea gastrodome, it opened to the public before Christmas, with a new chef - Mark Broadbent, ex The Oak and Isola - and an ambitious all-British menu.
There was something so ... so Conrany about my first encounter with the revamped Dining Rooms. The chap who called to confirm our 8.30 reservation warned that we would definitely have to be at our table by 8.30 ("If you want to have a drink in the bar first, may I suggest you meet at 8.00"). We arrived on the dot of 8.29. "Ah, you're the first to arrive," said the same chap. "Let me show you through to the bar ..."
"You see! That's what I hate about Tom Conran!" erupted my guest, Mr Angry, when he arrived at 8.31. Most Conran-haters reserve their wrath for Sir Terence himself, but as a long-standing resident of Notting Hill, Mr A has managed to build up quite a head of steam about young Tom as well. (The King of Ersatz, he calls him, though on closer questioning his dislike proved to stem from an incident when the Conran heir queue- jumped him at Tom's Deli. Which to be fair, the man does own.)
Once we'd managed to engineer the conversation away from "the Conran clan as metaphor for the failed New Labour project" and on to the menu we were on safer ground. This isn't so much a menu as a round-Britain quiz. Regional ingredients shine, from Cornish lobster to Tobermory scallops, by way of West Mersey oysters and brown shrimp from Morecambe Bay. And they're used in the most exotic combinations. How does "dandelion salad, wet walnuts, Lambourne apples, Shropshire blue" sound for starters, followed by "smoked haddock rarebit, curly kale, Old Spot bacon, Devonshire cockles". Not exactly sexy, but certainly exciting. Back in the Sixties, Sir Terence helped introduce us Brits to the pleasures of French cooking. Now he is reintroducing us to our own heritage.
A starter of Cornish crab salad came with potato drop scones of souffle- light fluffiness. "London particular" (pea and ham soup) was a veg-crammed feast founded on a sturdy, smoky stock. Plump snails were well matched with smoked bacon and watercress, in a warm, sweetly dressed salad, while succulent scallops came wrapped in treacle-cured bacon and served on a "skuet". This menu calls for a dictionary as well as a gazetteer (it's a skewer, by the way).
Main courses were equally impressive; best of them a slow-roasted slab of Middle White pork complete with a crunchy canopy of crackling, with roast potatoes and crispin apple jelly. At the other extreme, a shimmering tranche of roast Cornish cod was lightly cooked and partnered with salsify and a vivid green parsley mash. Rump of salt-marsh lamb came with a layered potato cake, Lancashire hot-pot style. One mild disappointment, in the form of a rather dry roast partridge, wasn't enough to spoil the show.
This is serious, grown-up food, and the Bluebird Dining Room's clientele reflects that; it's older and chicer than the crowd that frequents the Bluebird restaurant next door. Mr Angry observed that the diners were "a bit middle-aged", but as his only view was of myself and Mrs A, he might have formed a slightly misleading impression. From our viewpoint, we could appreciate what is an extremely elegant room, its high glass ceiling and wood-panelled walls reminiscent of the cocktail lounge of a Cunard liner. In the bar are some of the now unimaginably valuable Jack Vettriano paintings that were commissioned when The Bluebird first opened in 1997.
If we didn't feel able to add our voices to the unanimous chorus of approval that has greeted the Bluebird Dining Rooms, it was largely down to the non-food elements, though a really ropey apple and pear crumble, with a topping as powdery as moondust, certainly didn't help. The wine-list is expensive, and service weirdly disconnected, from a succession of tall, dark men who hover broodily in the background like Vettriano characters, darting forward to refill glasses at inappropriate moments then disappearing for long periods of time. The Bluebird might be a shrine to the age of speed, but their pacing is all over the place.
At around pounds 70 a head with wine, prices are certainly top of the range. As the next stage in the evolution of our love affair with British food, though, Bluebird gets more right than it does wrong, and even Conran-baters will find plenty to admire about the place. Whether anyone will absolutely love it, I'm not so sure. E
The Bluebird Dining Rooms, 350 Kings Road, London SW3
pounds 70 per head including wine
The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs
Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood
Life & Style blogs
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
The Fappening: After the third wave of leaked celebrity photos, why can't we stop it?
Stoptober: How I stopped smoking for good
Wild ram head-butts drone out the sky, waits for pilot to turn up then head-butts him too
Olive oil could help to reverse heart failure, scientists claim
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Former Tory donor Arron Banks ups his Ukip donation to £1million following William Hague 'nobody' comment
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- < Previous
- Next >
£36000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced SEN Teacher n...
This is an unpaid volunteer role. : Belong: We are looking for volunteers who ...
£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: Experienced TA's urgently...
£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Supply Business Studies Teacher...