With Polish vixens and Japanese beef, it's like the boom never ended

<strong>NO 20</strong><br />20 WARWICK STREET, W1B 5NF, TEL: 020 7292 6102<br /><br /><strong>FOOD<br />SERVICE<br />ATMOSPHERE<br /></strong>Price per head without drink: &pound;35<br /><br />AN economist I know is fond of saying that nothing epitomised the boom years like Wagyu and foie gras burgers. Well, he&rsquo;ll be relieved to know, the boom years are back in one corner of town: No 20 at the Sanctum Hotel in Soho. The Sanctum has been billed as a rock &lsquo;n&rsquo; roll hotel, with guitars and amps on the room service menu and a private cinema &ndash; a sprightly anomaly in our down-at-heel times. Indeed, there&rsquo;s nothing depressed about No 20, with its big purple columns, glossy banquettes and the aforementioned burgers.<br /><br />Yet it&rsquo;s depressing. We went on a Saturday night and it was (and stayed) near empty throughout. The rock-star glamour promised by the Sanctum falls flat in this room because the clientele that were there didn&rsquo;t seem very glam, let alone glam rock, and the room is actually rather small and &ndash; when it comes down to it &ndash; characterless.<br /><br />But to the service and food. A small team of friendly Polish vixens oversee proceedings, while an eager-to-please waiter made an impression by pouring water into our G&amp;Ts. This mistake was apologetically amended with fresh drinks, though the barman seemed bordering on snide, as though we&rsquo;d made it up to get more drink.<br /><br />At first we were presented with an unbelievably sparse set menu, with one of the three mains offered not on offer that night (the beef). That left risotto and veal sweetbread, neither of which I even like. Would they have the Wagyu burger? Panic rose.<br /><br />But when I asked if indeed our dinner was to be chosen from six offerings in total, we were given a fuller menu, with a lot more vitality and &ndash; mercifully &ndash; choice. Here the fun began. Chef Gavin Austin (formerly of Escargot and Searcy&rsquo;s) is a diehard Best of British sort of cook and has created a dynamic menu. Apparently the theme is &ldquo;indulgence&rdquo;, and that must be where the Wagyu burger comes in. Otherwise, it just seemed to be well-executed, nicely conceived international food. I began with a beautifully composed, aromatic salad of quinoa, pomegranate, spinach, avocado and pink grapefruit, priced very reasonably at &pound;5.50. My friends had a very good, thick crab and sweetcorn chowder with brown crab toast, and strangely whipped Rosary goat&rsquo;s cheese blobs with beetroot and pickled walnut.<br /><br /><strong>MASSAGED COW</strong><br />And then it was time for the burger (we declined the foie gras supplement). As you would expect with meat that comes from a beer-fed, massaged cow, it was melting and strong-flavoured. The bun was a downer, though: a sweet and dry brioche that was wholly inappropriate and tasted stale even though it was baked on site (or so we were told).<br /><br />But the meat continued to impress, with a dark, rich plate of longhorn rib eye in strong red wine butter, while my fish dish &ndash; pan-fried bream, Dublin Bay prawns and cauliflower cream &ndash; was richer than you bargain for when you order fish, but also more delicious. Like Bob Bob Ricard down the road, No 20 offers some American room-service style choices, such as macaroni cheese and rare breed omelette with fine herbs. These are nice options if you don&rsquo;t want to spend &ndash; or eat &ndash; too much and they add panache to the menu. The omelette hints at the enticing breakfast, which features home-made Boston baked beans and jugged kippers with parsley butter.<br /><br />Dessert was predictable: a homage to British heritage, with treacle tart, lemon sponge and blueberry pie. The British cheese plate was lovely, with thick, sweet oatcakes and tart grape chutney, adding zing and depth. The wine list is short and not particularly sweet, the usual mix of old and new world, with quite a few South American bottles, and only four in total available by the glass.<br /><br />Heaving with rock-star glam it wasn&rsquo;t. But in the end, No 20 fed us imaginatively and well, and we left with smiles on our Wagyu-stuffed faces. <br /><br /><strong>In a nutshell:</strong><br />Sparky, well-executed British food in a dining room that promises boom-time glamour but delivers little of it. Friendly staff and a laidback atmosphere go some way towards addressing the lack of atmosphere and vibe. Maybe it will liven up.