Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Carol Gray compare notes on Heddon Street Kitchen, London
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Carol Gray is a senior teaching fellow living in Stoke-on-Trent. She eats out twice a month and counts dinner at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons as her best restaurant experience.
Heddon Street Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay’s latest project, is similar to its sister restaurant Bread Street Kitchen in its industrial-chic design, complete with gold leather-padded booths. Head chef Maria Tampakis is in charge of largely modern European menus: you can have brunch, lunch, dinner and even after-work cocktails here, and there is a separate menu for children.The focus is on grilled meats, although fish and seafood also feature heavily.
One thing you can pretty much guarantee at any Ramsay joint is slick, well-drilled service. Here at Heddon Street, I walk in to see Byron Lang, one of the capital’s great maître d’s, in charge. He’s a mate, so I was obviously recognised*, but the man’s a master. As expected, the service was warm, professional and knowledgeable – and no upselling of wine, either. Spot on.
Staff welcomed us warmly, and had a friendly attitude throughout the evening. Our waitress was knowledgeable and the sommelier happily paired our food choices to the wines. We had limited time, but our waitress organised swift delivery of food and did so without making us feel rushed.
Like its older sibling, Heddon Street Kitchen has a menu that wanders breezily around the world. A Californian maki roll here, a mutton and potato pie there; pasta, braised short rib and a whole section titled ‘Grill’. The starters are all well sourced and beautifully cooked. Tuna tartare is coarsely cut, but fresh and firm, with a splendid chilli kick. Charred flatbread is slathered with oozing taleggio, and a handful of mushrooms. Two fat scallops are topped with shards of crisp treacle bacon, and are slightly opaque in the centre, as they should be. Turning to the mains, pork belly is decent but unexceptional. There’s proper crisp, burnished crackling, and meat so soft it falls apart. Spiced halibut, though, is plain dull, the fish a little over-cooked and the sauce dominated by the piperade. Roasted Brussels sprouts see a return to form, still crunchy and studded with bacon. Pudding – which is something involving pineapple cut into ribbons – is, well, pineapple cut into ribbons.
Baked scallops were soft and succulent, tasting strongly of treacle bacon. Even better were my tamarind chicken wings– a generous portion of crispy, perfectly charred wings with soft flesh, fragrant with their sweet-and-sour flavour. The main disappointment of the meal was the spiced halibut, which had burnt edges and was dry in places. And the spiced flavour was lost under a strong, tomato-based sauce. Much better, though, was the slow- roasted pork belly – just wonderful with the softest, sweetest fat and meat, and crackling that snapped superbly. This was perfect with a side order of chips that were fat, soft on the inside and crispy on the surface. Portions are generous throughout the menu. For pudding, the vanilla cheesecake was essentially a light and delicious mousse with crumb topping. The star of the show, though, was the pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet – the intensity of flavour in the pineapple was particularly impressive for such a light dessert.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a place in the West End that is consistent, reliable, child-friendly, open all day, and blessed with beautiful service, Heddon Street Kitchen fits the bill. Some dishes are memorable but, for these prices, I expect more: I want more of that old Ramsay magic. Would I go back? Probably not.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10, SERVICE 9/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 23/30
Overall, I would love to visit again. The staff were excellent, starters and desserts were particularly good, and the surroundings were welcoming – leather couch seating, clever lighting and weathered wood made the atmosphere warm and inviting. Early evening was a good time to visit, and I think the grill menu would be worth exploring next time.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 10/10; CAROL’S TOTAL: 26/30
Heddon Street Kitchen Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) Rating:
All the meat served comes from free-range animals. Unfortunately, the restaurant couldn’t provide full details of the provenance of the tuna, scallops and halibut – three varieties that need to be approached with caution. All the vegetables come from the UK and the pineapple eaten by the reviewers is sourced from a farm in Costa Rica with a close connection to the restaurant. Any food waste is sent for composting.
Written January 2015