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|Address:||8 Hanway Place, London W1T 1HD|
|Tel:||020 7927 7000|
|Price: £72.00||Wine: £32.00||Champagne: £74.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-3pm (Sat -4pm Sun -5.45pm) 6-11pm (Thurs-Sat 5.30pm-12:30am)|
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In “Down and Out in Paris and London”, George Orwell gives a gut-wrenching account of his experience of washing dishes in the kitchen of a Paris Hotel. In Fawlty Towers, Terry the chef identifies the kitchen as being that of Maxim's, when asking whether or not Basil, following a health inspection of the hotel, has read the book ("no, do you have a copy? I'll read it out in Court!").
I am not sure that Terry was right to identify “Hotel X” as Maxim's (it was probably the Crillon) but in any event my visit to Hakkasan, Mayfair the other night reminded me of the fate of Maxim's, once a venerable institution (est. 1893), now a brand rolled out by Pierre Cardin in London, Monaco, Geneva, Brussels, Tokyo, Hefei, Beijing, Shanghai and New York. Hakkasan is equally well a “brand” restaurant with branches in the US, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Mumbai. It shows.
This is an operation that turns on the importance of the brand, not the value of the diner and the importance of his or her experience.
Although the occasion was my 41st birthday, I wasn't particularly grumpy, I do not think. My darling wife had booked the table for 8.30pm (table back by 10.30pm). I had not been to the Mayfair branch but had enjoyed drinks on occasion over the years in Hanway Place. On our arrival at 8.35pm, we were told (no eye contact) by the front of house that the table would be a “little while.”
So a drink in the bar – it's like a nightclub but that's ok as I like nightclubs (and do not get to go to them often enough anymore). One drink in, a further query of the front of house (no up-date in the interim) yields a similar response to the initial one.
Foot tap, foot tap: – 9.15pm rolls around and by now pretty hungry I call the ball and decide that I have had enough. At that moment, a waitress/ hostess/ server (this is a brand restaurant) arrives in the bar to tell us that the table is ready. No sign of the front of house whose job one assumes it is is to do the PR and see off any potential customer dissatisfaction.
The waitress/ server/ hostess listens to my complaint with a sort of tearful expression which made me row back on what I really want to say. I am careful not to shout – as much as that is possible competing with Rhianna on the sound system (did I say I liked nightclubs? Not for complaining in, I don't). So we left, our departure apparently unlamented by anybody who should be responsible for such things.
So I can't tell you what the food is like. I can tell you that a Vodka and Tonic cost £10.74 inc tip (which is not outrageous for a nightclub/ brand restaurant/ Mammon's dining room).
How do I feel? Thoroughly depressed (and no, it's still not the birthday). It's not that I want to be an oligarch; it's just that when I go to a restaurant I want it to make me feel as though it cares about my custom. The brand means there is no warmth, no soul, no humour, no “class,” just Rhianna and lamentations for Maxim's.
We went to Cote instead: the service was excellent and we both enjoyed decent steaks and a couple of glasses of Claret. Cote has a brand: it also understands that it needs to have more than that to make a good restaurant.