We need to talk about chairs. They don’t get nearly enough bad press. Many a good meal has been ruined by a wonky leg or a misplaced spring. Bertrand Russell might have said that ‘the aching posterior diverts attention from the enjoyment of eating’, but a wiser man told him to shut up and go to Alyn Williams at The Westbury. Neither too big, nor too small, there you’ll find Goldilocks seating – that ‘just right’ ratio of hard to soft; tastefully upholstered; and, all-importantly, armed. The only dangerous thing is you’ll never want to get up.
This is Williams’ first outpost, and he’s got there by way of Petrus, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. The room – into which the sun don’t shine – could be in any swank hotel from Tokyo to Toronto, and, as such, its clientele are the suited-and-booted business type or bemused Mayfair tourist. So, old-school touches – amuses bouches, serviette origami, a champagne trolley – are to be expected. But despite this rarified setting, service could not be more pleasant.
In for a penny, in for a hundred-odd pounds, you might as well go for the tasting menu with matching wines (£125). To settle us in, gougères, the French aristocracy’s cheesy puff, were perfectly executed, light and pillowy, if a smidge boring. Of our seven dainty dishes, the big hitter was the sweetest and plumpest of Orkney scallops with cucumber, muscatel and scallop broth, ingeniously served with Dunkertons cider from Herefordshire. And stunning desserts; a delightfully mouth-puckering Cornish cheesecake, calamansi lime and white chocolate combo, followed by a delicate, last-of-the-summer plates, strawberry sundae and elderflower meringue.
But the other offerings had their problems: a well-cooked piece of brown trout was lost under its corn and truffle accompaniment; the watermelon was a mismatched bedfellow to some fantastic burrata and Iberico ham; and the centrepiece of beef sirloin & cheek, turnips, and croutons just didn’t deliver on the promise of its billing.
As old Bertie observed, chairs might be important, but so is the food. Without a doubt, Williams and his brigade can cook, but I’d hope for more peaks and fewer troughs at these prices. This classic-meets-modern approach has been instrumental in establishing where British cooking is right now, but perhaps it’s had its time. Give me a sore bum over an unsatisfied belly any day.
£270 for two (with service – and a snooze after lunch)
Food; 6 Service; 8 Ambience; 6
Alyn Williams at The Westbury, 37 Conduit Street