Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro who may get special treatment if recognised?* Rebecca Seal and reader Lucy Davies compare notes on Rextail.
Rebecca Seal is a journalist, editor, TV presenter and author. She’s the resident drinks expert on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch and a regular contributor to ES magazine.
Lucy Davies is a solicitor from London. She eats out at least once a week and her favourite cuisines are Mexican or Japanese. Her best eating out experience was the tasting menu at Le Gavroche.
Mayfair restaurant Rextail is the third opening from Russian restaurateur Arkady Novikov. It’s a quirky space with red velvet chairs leading the way to the open kitchen, and faux buffalo heads adorning the walls – a nod to the meat-focused menu. Expect premium cuts of steak, including wagyu, USDA prime fillet and Tuscan Fiorentina T-bone cooked on a charcoal grill, or in the wood fired oven. There’s also a variety of seafood on the menu. General manager, Livio Italiani, has a reputation as one of London’s best sommeliers and has put together an impressive wine list, with wines by the glass starting from. Cocktail lovers are also in for a treat, as the extensive cocktail menu has a section devoted to martinis, such as the sweet hanky made with Knob Creek, Antica Formula and grapefruit bitters, as well as more refreshing drinks including the spicy Dahli fizz made with vodka, ginger, lime, cardamom bitters and lemonade.
We needed a little help navigating the enormous menu (there are 17 starters and 22 main course options, plus charcuterie) and the waiter was clearly baffled that my friend wanted veal milanese with gremolata to be explained. However, generally service was brisk and friendly and there were no problems ordering wine by the glass or tap water. *I wasn’t recognised.
At the start of our meal the service was very attentive. We had a couple of questions relating to the food, which were answered in detail by our waiter. There was no problem ordering tap water, although it was not offered. Towards the end of dinner, the level of service dropped and we had to call a waiter over so that we could order dessert – and then our bill – for which we had a very long wait.
Rextail is bang in the middle of money-bags Mayfair and it shows: although there are a few dishes at around £8 for a starter and £16 for a main, the majority are much more expensive. The menu is clearly designed to please absolutely everyone and contains Italian, Asian, French, British and even Californian-style dishes. The only problem with this is that it usually prevents a kitchen from doing one thing really well, and can make it feel like you’re dining at an international hotel. The food was perfectly good, but if I’m paying for a king crab starter, I want to be really wowed, rather than served a nice but unexciting crab caesar salad. Veal milanese was huge, with the flattened veal in breadcrumbs covering the entire plate, but it could have done with more gremolata (chopped garlic, lemon and parsley). My braised beef short ribs were similarly gigantic, like something out of Desperate Dan, and defeated even my hearty appetite completely. Although we could barely manage any of the sides (or fit anything else on our plates) we were grateful for a crisp, tart endive side salad, which helped cut through the richness of all that meat. We shared a chocolate soufflé with praline ice cream melting into its middle – the waiter told us it was light, but what arrived was the size of an average Christmas pudding.
The menu at Rextail is huge and varied. Fortunately, we were provided with rabbit terrine, fig jam and bread to sustain us while we perused the menu. The starters turned out to be the highlight of the meal; I had burrata Pugliese which was served with datterini tomatoes.The burrata was rich and creamy and was well-balanced by the freshness of the tomatoes. My boyfriend had tuna tartare served with koshu dressing and pickled cucumber. This was without a doubt the best dish of the evening – not least because of the generous serving of tuna. Our main courses were more standard grill-restaurant food. I had the Rextail burger which was cooked rare as ordered and was fine as burgers go, but was not memorable. My boyfriend had the braised beef short ribs with baked smoked bone marrow from the wood-smoked menu. The meat was tender and fell away from the bone easily, but did not taste particularly smoky. We shared a side of wood-roasted butternut squash but not all the squash was cooked through and tasted unpleasantly bitter. For dessert, I had chocolate and salt toffee ice cream which was beautifully smooth, and the perfect balance of sweet and salty. My boyfriend’s chocolate soufflé (served with praline ice cream) was served perfectly and uniformly risen – an impressive feat in any restaurant!
the bottom line
Despite the à la carte prices, the restaurant was almost full, even on a dull Tuesday night. Rextail is big but cosy, done out in bare wood, red velvet and leather, scattered with vintage- style ornaments. There’s a good-value three-course lunch menu for £23.50, but there are more exciting places to spend this much on supper.
FOOD 6/10; ATMOSPHERE 6/10; SERVICE 7/10; REBECCA’S TOTAL: 19/30
The venue had a great atmosphere. I would recommend a visit for the tuna alone, but I probably wouldn’t go back as the food lacked consistency. While it was an enjoyable experience, it didn’t represent good value for money.
FOOD 6/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 6/10; LUCY’S TOTAL: 20/30
Rextail Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
The menu has an international flavour and the ingredients reflect that. About half the fruit and vegetables are British, and although all the meat on the menu is free-range, only some of it comes from the UK. While almost all restaurants import some produce, Rextail should be looking to minimise the amount it gets air-freighted. As for seafood, chef Adrian Martin sticks to the Marine Conservation Society’s ‘Fish to Eat’ list. Pudding lovers will be pleased to know that all the chocolate used is fairly traded.