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|Address:||26-28 Whitfield Street, London W1T 2RG|
|Tel:||020 3544 0837|
|Price: £61.00||Wine: £23.00||Champagne: £49.95|
|Opening Hours:||Mon 5pm-12M Tues-Sat 12N-12M (Thurs-Sat -1am)|
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‘Unlimited Champagne’. Mmmm. It speaks to the latent Hooray Henry (and perhaps the lush) in me. So when a sub-£40 tasting menu promises endless bubbles and eight courses, my squeals of joy are audible. Hello, Crazy Bear!
Recent reviews paint this place as an institution with a flailing cult rep. Service is hailed as super-slick or mean-spirited and sloppy, with more regard for a mean cocktail than a decent feed.
In contrast we received a v.warm welcome for lunch, with jolly staff as happy to take our coats as to top up our glasses well before they were dry. We had to request a peek at the promotional menu which was swiftly offered – just as well, as the alternative looks mighty steep in price – but the Brut was already flowing, so we didn’t quibble. Chefs were happy to mix and match dishes for a pescatarian, which is a doozie in my books.
Dim Sum from the vegetarian menu was less varied in texture and type than the meat-eater’s menu, with so-so flavours among the sticky, steamed buns. But if the starters were lacklustre, then the mains were triumphant. Okay, so I ended up with a trio of tofu dishes, but each was distinctive: a pokey and aromatic curry, a simple stir fry where each skinny green bean had a satisfying snap, and more than a tickle of kaffir lime among the noodles. (I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer quantity in the latter stages, so my advice is to save yourself. That curry’s goooood).
And so to a trip through the moody bar downstairs, to simply spend a penny. I turned to my left as directed, but saw an impenetrable labyrinth of mirrored walls and proceeded to style it out as I pawed each surface. I had half a mind to take a run-up and CHARGE! as I searched.
What exactly did the decor set out to achieve by squirreling away the lavs? I didn’t notice any locals slapping each other on the back, madly chortling at my misadventure, and it must’ve proved downright tiresome for the long-suffering barman. To this day, I can but pray that the neon trough in which I washed my hands was – gulp – a sink, and not a urinal…
This ‘member’s only’ trickery is extended to the anonymous facade, and it really gets my goat. I pitter-pattered back and fourth across the same stretch of pavement in a state of bewilderment before entering the joint, feeling like an ultra-spod. (The camera phone never lies, right? I must be here)?! Indeed, the darkened doorway was the right spot, but I’d missed the paw logo on the doormat in the absence of an actual sign.
These piddly irritations might sum the place up. There’s a lot going on to impress, but there’s a fair bit of style over substance too; I suspect it lures a crowd keen to see and be seen after hours (but this is a foundless assumption). Lovely though the service was throughout – with no hidden extras sneaked in, unlimited mineral water thrown in and a real effort to please – we did feel slightly shoehorned out the door when we’d paid. It’s understandable given that the wine flowed so freely and we were fore-warned of 90-minute slots; but we were welcome to slink to the bar for more reveling, at the mercy of our own pockets.
Our lunch was a stolen treasure on a week-day off work, and I’m glad to have popped along. I can’t lie that the wealth of neighbouring tapas joints aren’t top-notch because they might offer a more consistent treat for the soul and the tummy. They might not be as flash or as fancy (and their hours not quite so permissive), but they’re a sound bet when it comes to a lunch that lasts way into the evening.