First Floor, Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, SE1 7UT. Tel: 020 7620 7272
FOOD SERVICE ATMOSPHERE
Cost per person without wine: £45
MUCH has been made of the unfortunate location of Brasserie Joel – and rightly so. This new outpost of the talented Joel Antunes, fresh from exile in the States, sits in a monstrous blob of a building that looks like some attempt at 1990s futurism. It’s shiny, grey and on a roundabout. Bizarrely, this structure is the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, and despite having views of Big Ben, the whole place feels more like an Asian airport lounge than a London hotel. You can almost feel the jetlag in the air, wafting around the whiskey cocktails and the
None of which paves the way for a particularly cuddly, special-treat type of dining experience. You ride a wide escalator from an vast, minimalist foyer into a huge first floor with several restaurants, lounges, bars and lots of little information stands. We asked at one and were directed round a corner to a dark, windowless enclave: the restaurant.
Okay, so the location is weird, the building uninviting and the room itself completely unprepossessing – the windowlessness of it, its cramped layout and the orange lights only augment a sense of disorientation. Even the menu has a sense of mild confusion about it – vague American twitches such as a (reportedly poor) lobster cobb and a leek salad with “blue” cheese and candied pecans sit oddly alongside all the foie gras.
But let’s get down to business. The food that we ate was, in the main, luscious, rich and delightfully flavoured. Meat flew in all its forms. Chicken and foie gras terrine, pork terrine and foie gras au torchon were some examples; there was veal kidney, oxtail tortellini and lots more too. I started with the foie gras au torchon, which was a silky-as-you-like, completely delicious wheel of the stuff with red wine and apple jam and toast. It perfectly answered that (somewhat rarefied) craving for a marriage of melting, creamy pinkness with the crunch of pale gold bread. My friend had a crab salad that was expensive but overpowered by mayonnaise. It could, alas, have been tuna.
Matters entered the celestial after this and our drab surroundings sort of faded into oblivion. We had a mid-course of homemade ricotta ravioli with spring vegetables – lovely tight parcels of milky cheese doused in a gravy that came from the squeaky clean, riotously coloured vegetables dancing around them. I did not want this dish to end.
It was as well that it did, though, since the fish I had next – a whole sea bass in papillote (wrapped up in plastic as it cooks) with prawn mousse and hollandaise was the most butch presentation of fish I’ve ever come across. It was as challenging as a 400g T-Bone steak, but far more fun to eat. Two beefy layers of the fish were separated by a filling of diced vegetables; the prawn mousse added a buttery seafood dimension and the hollandaise was an outrageous addition. At £19.50 I’d call this the best-value fish dish in town. It was monstrous – in a good way.
My friend’s tournedos Rossini was pure red-meat fireworks. The discs of deep red, crusted fillet mignon came with a faintly sweet, butter-drenched potato cake (heaven) and, of course, a glistening piece of foie gras. To eat this symphony of naughtiness was to suspend all other attention. Indeed, I’d brave the hotel’s lounge-style doldrums for a mouthful of those tournedos again – and maybe again.
Based on how delicious the meat was, I’d also recommend the suckling pork belly with pork feet cannelloni (how good does that sound?) and the sweetbreads with veal cheek. Don’t bother with dessert, though. There was a buffoonish ice cream sundae (without chocolate sauce, what is the point?) at a table nearby, and my rum baba was stale-tasting and served with a too-small sliver of the promised roast banana.
There is much that counts against Brasserie Joel. But in the end, what counts for it – its cheeky, winning food – is more important.