Posh nosh or just a load of complete tosh?
It must be a hard and unenviable task running a luxury hotel and restaurant in Knightsbridge and Mayfair. No matter what, you will be compared to the big name competition – The Mandarin Oriental has Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, while The Berkeley has two restaurants, one by Marcus Wareing and the other by Pierre Koffman. The considerably lesser-known Athenaeum Hotel therefore has its work cut out for it.
Since I was at the Athenaeum for a business dinner I had the pleasure of eating in one of the private dining rooms, rather than the main dining room which I sincerely hope isn’t cursed with the same chintzy photos of London you only ever see in hotels and tourist brochures. Service was polite and efficient, but startlingly unable to answer even the most basic questions. One of my fellow diners was American and was therefore only familiar with rocket under its alternative name of arugula. When he asked the waitress what rocket was, she was unable to answer him.
I began with a starter of seared scallops with razor clams and mussels served with green leaves and a lemon puree. Both the scallops and mussels were startlingly fresh and juicy, but this only served to highlight the disappointing razor clams. The clams were smothered both visually and in terms of taste by the creamy sauce which I couldn’t quite place. The scallops and mussels were best experienced on their own without the accompanying lemon puree which was too overpoweringly tart and bitter.
Monkfish is an indescribably ugly animal, but its firm succulent flesh makes for good eating. Here it was pan-fried to perfection – juicy and firm with a nice, clean taste. I was unimpressed with its accompaniments though – the tough pieces of salty pancetta and excessively chewy baby squid spoiled the dish, while the potato hash thing and spinach puree were unremarkable. It may have been a good idea to contrast the taste and texture of monkfish with those of pancetta and squid, but the execution is clumsy and unbalanced.
I’m not usually a fan of ginger, but I was willing to give the ginger pudding at The Athenaeum a chance if only because it seemed like the most promising dessert option available that evening. The ginger cake itself was boldly, unmistakably ginger flavoured. The pudding as a whole was rather monotonous though – there wasn’t enough golden syrup to balance out the spice of the ginger with some syrupy sweetness, while the bland vanilla custard (served on the side in a small jug) added little to the dish besides a little colour.
The restaurant at the Athenaeum Hotel clearly has access to some quality ingredients, but the execution just isn’t good enough and the service too ignorant to justify the relatively high prices. It might pass muster to fool the tourists staying there, but unless the Athenaeum ups its game it will never emerge from the shadow of its more accomplished competition to be worthy of the attention of more discerning locals.
Name: The Athenaeum Hotel
Address: 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, W1J 7BJ
Phone: 020 7499 3464
Opening Hours: seven days a week 12.30-14.30; 17.30-22.30
Reservations: probably a good idea.
Total cost for one person: £54 approx.