Just had swine flu. What a mare. One minute you’re trotting around, snouting about London and feeling just swill, and the next you’re on the straw squealing like someone out of Defoe. Last Sunday, I had lunch with relatives (my own), troughing away like a pig in proverbial – but went home with a lardy shiver and encroaching dread. Woke up on Monday feeling someone yanking my eyeballs into my brain while cattle-prodding my temples and heaping bar-bells on my belly.
The worst thing about the pigsick is you’re not sure what it might mean. People laugh at it now in that over-hearty, over-loud, phew-that-was-a-close-one way: they’re saying it’s as hyped as, I don’t know, Cheryl Cole - but then you get it and there’s a gnawing, unpalatable sense that you might, er, die. Anyway, I did the sensible thing and barricaded myself in my room, tanked on Tylenol, watching Haneke films for cheer and solace.
The worst of it’s gone now – thanks for asking – but it’s left me with a cough like a Chinese miner and a throat made of razors and a Victorian bellows. And – sorry if this is a bit TMI but it’s the only way we can syncopate into the next bit – it means I hoik up sputum the colour of -
The sofas at Seven Park Place. Horrid. They’re this emphysemal brown, a not-of-the-newest fish dye, stretching across the fabric like fake tan and a facelift. But their hideousness is as nothing to the rest of the room. ‘Busy’ might be your initial handheld adjective – but it’s much, much worse than that: it’s busier than Peter Mandelson. Some ghastly interior designer has frotted and coiffed everything to within an inch of its life. Arriving, and shrieking inwardly at the décor, I nearly turned tail and fled that instant – all things considered, it might have been better if I had.
Seven Park Place is in St James’s, a part of town I know pretty well but in which, oddly enough, I haven’t reviewed a restaurant before. I went with a mate who works nearby, and walked him back to his office after lunch. Shuddering sights. Taut, frozen brows of termagant wives with Hillary hair and horrible dogs. Porty portlies stumbling out of Boodle’s with pocket-squares askew. Ken Clarke. This is an entitled area with a pinstriped froideur: straitened by recession, though the clubbables and hedgies are siring cash again in back-scratching contentment.
The restaurant occupies a space once held by Andaman, Dieter Muller’s cactus-flower place (pretty, prickly and died a quick death) on the ground floor of a lugubrious ‘boutique’ hotel round the back of The Ritz. The chef is William Drabble, who was at Aubergine for many years (I had my 21st there – not my choice), several of them under Uncle Gordon’s tutelage.
Drabble’s food is Croesus- or Creosote-rich: he’s aiming to poach the chaps from clubland’s ‘coffee’ rooms (which are actually dining rooms) and their Alpine ‘smoking’ rooms, so it’s all heavy, heavy... heavy. Almost everything comes with a superfluous dollop of something thick and gooey, as if some smotheringly munificent milkmaid were at the pass. High-end food so often stumbles at this point: that overkill garnish, that gild on the coulis, creates something much less than the sum of its parts.
For example, this amuse:
A disc of tuna spiked and numbed with Szechuan pepper, some flayed and naughty little tomatoes, a shimmer of basil, cucumber leaves for looks and a blob of avo purée. Perfect. But there's an extra creamy dollop adding nothing – just white superfluous richness, a glob of cloying fat, clottingly, clot-headedly unnecessary.
Similar: langoustine tortellini with roasted cauliflower and truffle butter sauce. (Already sounds subatomically light, no?) It was OK, but underneath it lay this wallpaper paste, this thick pappy swamp of cauliflower purée, as welcome as a sombre vet with a big needle. It’s all, as they say, too much.
There were exceptions. I’ll hymn here an encomium to my grouse, which was the best I’ve had this season (and the last, too) – breasts of blood and earth, in a thunkingly brilliant blackberry sauce, the giblets and legs minced and deep-fried in a breaded puck. But skate wing in black butter was singularly disastrous. Overcooked to rigid repellence and completely underseasoned, it was like chewing on rubbery iron filings, mush and dust in the mouth. My friend sent it back, rightly, and they brought him a good duck confit with orange sauce. Puddings were entirely forgettable, and looked like abstracts you’d buy in Habitat.
In a half-empty restaurant with 30 covers, with aspirations for stars and badges, these pulse-bleeps of triumph and disaster won’t do. There’s altogether too much to criticise at Seven Park Place, too much at fault, too many fundamental errors. At the end, I asked my chum to sum it up. ‘Skate tasted of paper. Loos were quite nice.’
Seven Park Place, St James’s Hotel, London SW1A
Tel. +44 (0)20 7316 1600
See on the Map
Lunch for two, excluding drinks and service, costs £60 - £90