34 Grosvenor Square, W1K 2HD Tel: 020 3350 3434
Cost per person without wine: £50
YOU missed Bill,” my companion informed me as I sat down to dinner at 34, the new restaurant from Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings Group. “Bill Clinton,” he clarified. Like fellow Caprice outposts Scott’s, The Ivy and J Sheekey, 34 has serious pulling power. Sad as I was to miss Mr President, my star-gazing requirements were satisfied by the presence of Nigella Lawson, Charles Saatchi and their brood at a circular table a couple metres away.
The restaurant is a surprisingly slender, rectangular room with a small but beautiful green marble bar at the far end, next to the jazz musicians who play nightly.
Martin Brudnizky, the man behind the inviting luxury of Scott’s, the Ivy Club and Richard Corrigan’s flagship (he’s one of two A-list restaurant designers in London, alongside David Collins, of the Wolesley, the Connaught Bar and the Gilbert Scott at St Pancras) has done his work well. It has the cosy intensity of The Ivy and Sheekey’s rather than the spacious splendour of Scott’s – there’s a runway between tables on the left and main section of the dining room so the famous and/or beautiful clientele can strut their stuff, and an open kitchen twinkling over it all.
The light is syrupy golden and the air is spicy with good leather. The acoustics are murmery but not noisy: a good thing, since aside from Nigella and the smattering of other famous-looking faces, pairs of Bordeaux-swigging business partners and rich men with young girlfriends fill every last table. This is Mayfair after all, home to denizens of London’s most genteel gastronomic set. Nor is this dense popularity likely to change – it hasn’t at the other Caprice places. Quite the contrary.
The centre of the kitchen is a massive charcoal grill from Argentina. For this is yet another steak restaurant in a city that suddenly can’t get enough of them. The beef menu features Scottish dry-aged grass-fed, Australian Wagyu, US prime Creekstone Farm and free-range organic grass-fed beef from northern Argentina. The piece of US I tried from my friend’s plate – served unadorned in a pancake-like slab – was indeed charcoaly on the outside, with a rich scarlet interior that delighted me.
But for me, a flashy London steak is a flashy London steak is a... you get the point. So I played other notes on the menu, and found them very harmonious indeed. First up were scallops – about six quid for each one: plump specimens in the shell with generous lashings of garlic and chilli oil, served with “bronzed” fennel.
An endive salad with crab was fresh and vibrant – it could well have accompanied a Great Gatsby-style brunch at a Hamptons hotspot – and the shrimp cocktail, with three or so plump prawns ranged around some veg, wouldn’t make anyone bulge out of their yacht-wear. Seafood ceviche, and octopus with chorizo and roseval potatoes were bang on trend too.
For my main, sallying past the beef (including the £85 Wagyu), I went for champagne risotto with Perigord truffles, which sounded suitably extravagant. It was very nice in that aromatic, mushroomy way of good risotto, and the truffles did their thing, laid atop generously in super-thin slivers. And since I’d gone for what I had hoped was a healthy option, I appreciated that it wasn’t creamy, nor indeed huge in size (for £30, some might want more).
One can eat off the “mains” menu (the Grill is more expensive), though, quite reasonably: meatballs cost £14.95 and are probably just the kind of comfort food 34 excels at. Roast chicken for two with stuffing costs £34, while slow-braised short ribs are £19.75.
The desserts all looked terrific (black forest crisp: yum) and our scoops of rum and raisin and strawberry cheesecake ice cream were like a child’s dream.
The fact is, the food matters relatively little here. It’s perfectly nice but there are dozens of restaurants serving good American-inspired food in London – and plenty with fancy imported grills, too. Success at 34 is predetermined: you can feel it in the air, from the smiley, seamless service, to the sense of complicity with the celebrity clientele (nobody is going to jump up and hassle Nigella or Kate Moss or whoever for an autograph, though perhaps had Bill been there I’d have broken the code of etiquette).
It’s a place for a great night out, for those evenings when you want to feel like you’re on the up, or perhaps even that you’ve arrived.