|Photo by Freeimages.com/Nimalan Tharmalingam|
by The Daily Telegraph, January 5, 2015
London has had a long love affair with no-reservations, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Tiny places. Reclaimed this and that. Usually tucked down a side street in Soho. Sometimes, you'll even need clues sourced via Twitter/Instagram to find them.
You could call it the Polpo effect- because restaurateur Russell Norman's chain of humble Venetian-inspired eateries certainly made small plates and wine out of tumblers de rigeur.
'Shabby chic': Polpo
But these self-consciously shabby-chic restaurants have fallen out of favour of late. In their place are sleek, supersized restaurants that hark back to the gloss and grandeur of yesteryear, when Titanic and Quaglino's were the places to see and be seen at. There was room to dance as well as dine. Interiors came courtesy of named designers in bed with restaurateurs. And more importantly, tables – usually white-clothed and resplendent in shimmering silverware – were booked way in advance.
This year, it seems, bigger (and brasher) really is better.
Case in point is the recent opening of Sexy Fish in Mayfair, the latest from ultra-swish Caprice Holdings (The Ivy, J. Sheekey, Scott’s, etc.), decked out by design don Martin Brudnizki and laying claim to one of the most expensive collections of art every commissioned by a restaurant. The split-level, 190-cover dining room features a wall-mounted mosaic crocodile by Frank Gehry, two cast bronze mermaids by Damien Hirst, and a bespoke, fabric-panelled ceiling by Michael Roberts. Iranian onyx marble and glazed lava stone come as standard throughout. A celeb-studded launch performed at by Rita Ora set the tone for a star-studded clientele. And superstar DJs are scheduled from Thursday for seriously wild weekends. But the best bit? You can pop your name down for a place just by calling a number. (Oh, reservations, how we’ve missed you!) Restaurant director Paul Murashe says: "The artwork, design and attention to detail are all masterful and we have all of those things to live up to. I think Londoners enjoy this kind of exuberance – somewhere where they can let their hair down a little."
The Frank Gehry crocodile sets the tone at Sexy Fish
Then there’s German Gymnasium by D&D, newly opened in King's Cross, in what was once the first fully-functioning gym in the UK. CEO Des Gunewardena says: “While there has been a surge in the last few years in small places serving street food with no bookings and queues around the block, large, glamorous venues like Bluebird in Chelsea continue to be packed. That’s why we have decided to open German Gymnasium, which will be the biggest restaurant that we have opened.” Indeed, the complex comes complete with café, restaurant, several bars and outdoor terrace. Mittel-European eats and Berlin beats will be on offer for a whopping 447 diners until 1am. And again, bookings will be positively encouraged.
And what about M Restaurants? Founder Martin Williams, ex-Gaucho, raised more than a couple of eyebrows when he opened his restaurant in the City last year comprising two restaurants under one roof (a steakhouse and a raw bar) and defiantly served £150 Kobe beef. Now, though, it seems that Martin is having the last laugh with the launch of a similarly-sized second site at Victoria Street, with a 120-cover grill, 60-cover raw bar, two members’ bars, a wine tasting room and a series of private dining and events spaces. He says: “Guests notice and appreciate touches of luxury and quality. If you have a more comfortable dining space at home, why would you go out to dine and sit on a hard rustic chairs or drink from a toothbrush glass?”
Also splashing the cash is modern Indian restaurant The Cinnamon Club, housed inside the Grade II-listed Old Westminster Library, which re-opened this year following a cool £1-million refurb. Not only have the booked-lined shelves in the dining room been given a good dusting down, but a shiny new gin trolley has been installed, wheeled to tables and serving the aptly-named Gold Rush punch topped with a bottle of Krug Grand Cuvée for £400 a pop. Executive chef Vivek Singh says: "Londoners are returning to the idea that eating out is an occasion. Low-key places have offered accessible food and the cool factor recently, but nothing beats a glamorous restaurant that really makes a meal feel special."
And even earlier in the year, Sky Garden at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street was the one suits were pushing their poor PAs to get them into, if not for the panoramas than the fine-dining and cocktailing across three sweeping levels.
Dramatic panoramas: Sky Garden
Katie Harel of Rhubarb, the restaurant team behind the soaring city slicker, says: "Sky Garden is home to two beautiful and purposefully glamorous restaurants. We believe there will always be a desire for more decadent dining and are happy to take things up a level, quite literally, as Londoners get another taste for high-end dining.”
Londoners are dusting off their wallets and digging deep as restaurants rediscover destination dining. Bring on the bling, we say.
This article was from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.