The Betterment, London W1: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Chloe Scott-Moncrieff and olive reader Laura James compare notes on Jason Atherton’s hot new restaurant
About The Betterment, London
What does a multimillion-pound redevelopment and the opening of European flagship hotel, in one of London’s priciest streets, get you? Jason Atherton – Gordon Ramsay protégé, Michelin man, prolific, international restaurateur, cookbook author and TV chef.
In a much-anticipated return to Grosvenor Square – in 2005 Jason launched Ramsay’s now-closed Maze, a few doors down – his new restaurant is set within The Biltmore. Head chef Paul Walsh (formerly of Jason’s other restaurant City Social) is at the pass, while the dining room nods to art deco, with its dark wood, flashes of gold, and geometric doors and ceiling lights, and leads through to a covered garden with foliage walls and colourful, relaxed seating.
Describing itself as “dedicated to the seasons”, the menu is broken down into seafood and starters, mains, fish and meat roasted over the embers, and veg, accompaniments and sides, while a second page details the provenance. Choose between the likes of king crab topped with yuzu and lime gel, served in its shell, over ice; and steak tartare with beef-dripping croutons to start; followed by rose veal cutlet served with a rich, gherkin-speckled charcuterie sauce; and pineapple and coconut mousse with compressed pineapple and lime to finish.
Let the sommelier guide you through the wine list or be tempted by cocktails such as Tea Time with the Queen (spiked with gin and kombucha) or the well-stocked whisky trolley.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Chloe Scott-Moncrieff was food editor at Metro for seven years, and co-founded the Young British Foodie awards. Follow Chloe on Instagram @chloescottmoncrieff.
The punter restaurant reviewer
Laura James lives in Lincolnshire and works in London. Her favourite cuisine is Spanish and the best dish she’s ever eaten is the gròp bplaa (whole crispy sea bass) at Farang in north London.
Our pro's The Betterment, London restaurant review…
We waltz into this luxury Hilton with greetings from every direction. It’s overwhelming, though we agree the intentions are good. The restaurant is nearly empty on Saturday lunch, perhaps explaining the watchful staff. *I wasn’t recognised.
Of the other initial courses, it’s my crab on toast that wins: a soft emulsion of rich brown and sweet white meat in the shell, topped with brioche crumbs and popped under the grill. Alongside is a smoky crab brioche with lemon butter. The friend’s caesar salad is brave visually – nori seaweed makes a theatrical stack up top – but the Cos lettuce and its polite dressing (apparently there is zesty yuzu and crispy garlic) is bland.
More like this
Homemade Genovese linguine with aged parmesan marches onto the table next. The impressive-looking nest of linguine is less impressive to eat. The pasta is fresh but where is the aromatic oomph? I always think a burger is a laudable test of a restaurant’s worth. The one I order, The Betterment burger, pink gamey beef, Montgomery cheddar, with chips, hits the spot though it’s nothing remarkable.
Veg accompaniments are best. New Forest wild mushrooms with smoky egg yolk smile with intense savoury earthiness. Although, confit Basque peppers arrive, flabby, corpse-like. Enjoyable is the onion side, carved into a flower, caramelised and sweet, dipped into a gentle chive sauce. Yet we’re not inspired to stay for pudding – maybe it’s the atmosphere. Credit to front of house, however – they present a small chocolate cake with a crunchy bottom and creamy girth for the chum, whose birthday it is.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We tried to like The Betterment but the vibe left us cold. There are attempts to give the space personality but the art deco twist remains sterile. “Twenties masculine décor,” whispered my date. You wouldn’t find me back here.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £112
Our punter's The Betterment, London restaurant review…
The décor at The Betterment makes you feel as if you’re stepping onto the set of The Great Gatsby. With emerald-green plush, tokens of gold and opulent flower displays, it fits perfectly into its Mayfair home. The enthusiastic sommelier greeted us with a perfectly chilled glass of Ruinart rosé, setting the tone for the evening.
Our charming and knowledgeable waiter explained the already descriptive menu as adopting a sharing plates approach.
Starters arrived swiftly. Pork cheek terrine is a little too chunky. The crab on toast impresses, served in its shell, with sweet brown crabmeat. Strikingly plain in appearance, the star of the show was the roasted Orkney scallop, served with sharply pickled girolles, perfectly cutting through a mountain of rich aged parmesan.
With the ox cheek tortellini a little thick and the John Dory a little vanilla, all focus turned to the opulence of the short rib. Melting beef boasted rich caramelisation, accompanied with an abundance of crunchy apple, salty Montgomery cheddar, truffle and lavish bone marrow – the menu’s ‘embers’ section packs the punch it promises.
Sides of beef-dripping chips, and an impressive onion flower, played sidecar to their dip accompaniments: an umami-packed truffle and mushroom ketchup and an illuminating chive emulsion.
The dessert menu didn’t charm us, so we concluded the night with a third glass of Moulin de Gassac and a Violet Sky sweetener (sloe gin, Belvedere vodka, violet, lemon, sugar and egg white) from the cocktail menu.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s clear The Betterment is a child of the Atherton brigade. Go for the short rib and take advantage of the sommelier’s recommendations. A great venue for entertaining but be prepared to blow the budget. Look forward to visiting again.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £209.50
The Betterment Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 6
The Betterment bills itself as ‘dedicated to the seasons and supporting local artisans’. That is certainly evidenced in the Herdwick lamb, the Clarence Court free-range eggs and the Chalk Stream Trout on the menu – an excellent alternative to salmon. The Brixham crab is another good sustainable choice. Although wild sea bass has recently swum out of the ‘red’ as defined by the Marine Conservation Society, it remains a fish to eat only occasionally, according to their expert advice. Diners should also be a little wary of two other seafood items on the menu, the turbot and John Dory, both of which could be facing significant environmental issues. The beef, veal, rare breed pork and chicken are all well sourced. The menu is light on plant-based dishes giving diners keen to reduce their impact limited choice, although the children’s menu does feature six vegetarian options. Back of house there’s evidence of a commitment to reduce waste and plastic. Reusable metal straws are in use in the bar and cling film has been replaced with refillable containers in the kitchen.