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Embassy London – a marriage of culinary style with substance

After a few days of fine London weather, I thought it would be nice to try out the new terrace at Embassy, having heard that it was very smartly kitted out at great expense. The location is good, a few doors along from Cecconi’s in a quiet street tucked away behind the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. As bad luck would have it, I chose the day the weather broke. Being stoic Englishmen, we sat outside and drank a glass of wine whilst reading Gary Hollihead’s new summer menu. Hollihead is busy overseeing at least two other restaurants: Geales, the celebs’ fish and chippie in Notting Hill, (reviewed by Louise Elgin here in Dine-Online) and the luxury restaurant with rooms Inn on the Green in Cookham Dean, Berkshire. His very able Head Chef at Embassy is David Kostner.

Embassy is a slightly unusual concept, in that it consists of a conventionally smart restaurant at street level, with nicely dressed tables and luxurious leather dining chairs, while below in the basement there is a night club with bar, dance floor and hefty AV kit. I’d have thought the target audiences were quite different, but I’m no expert in this field, whereas Hollihead’s partners Mark Fuller and Andy Taylor know a thing or two about the hospitality business. Nevertheless, I could easily imagine the stretched limos disgorging glamorous gaggles of hen-night girls wanting dinner before bopping the night away to ear crunching music.

Although we dropped in for lunch, we were offered the a la carte menu, which covers both lunch and dinner. There are a dozen starters artfully arranged on glass platters, ranging from £5 for simple salads, to £12 for the starter sized Nicoise, which comes with seared loin of tuna. We tried the Oriental crispy Pork belly which was darkly delicious. There’s so much pork belly around these days (whatever happened to lamb shanks?), most of which is quite competently cooked - but this was special, both in flavour and in contrasting textures. Another gob-stopper on Gary’s menu is sautéed prawns, plump and tasty, served on Yakitori skewers with little bruschetta boats carrying cargoes of red pepper concasse. The presentation was completed with a smear of guacamole. Smear is the new drizzle, but the short-lived smear is rapidly being overtaken by the splodge. The splodge has been adopted by certain chefs who believe it to be a token of “good honest cooking”. . I’ve long admired Hollihead’s presentational skills and if he were ever to introduce splodges to a dish, then exceedingly artistic splodges I am sure they would be.

As it was lunchtime we confined ourselves to lighter dishes, eschewing, with some regret, such delights as roast rump of lamb, Aberdeen Angus beefsteaks or grilled lobster. Borrowed from sister restaurant Geale’s, is beer battered fish and chips with mushy peas. Instead I had the lobster tagliatelle, the pasta little too al dente for my elderly taste, but the lobster itself came in a rich and correct Sauce Americaine, truly a joy. My guest chose the asparagus and watercress risotto, a vivid fresh green, lusciously creamy with perfect rice. A couple more spears of sparrowgrass would have been even nicer. Main course prices range from £12 for the Embassy Burger to £20 for the fillet of Angus. I’d recommend sharing one “side bite” (£3.50) between two.

We washed this extremely agreeable lunch down with a bottle of crisp and fruity Three Choirs. This excellent English white wine from Gloucestershire is named after the great choral festival where the cathedral choirs of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford join forces. My guest had expressed doubts when I proposed an English wine, but he was most agreeably surprised by its quality. It reminded us both more of a New World sauvignon blanc than the older style of English wine which often smelled and tasted of stinging nettles!

To finish, it was no hardship to wait a few extra minutes to be served an excellent and fragrant raspberry soufflé with marscapone ice cream. My guest, greedy pig that he is, would have liked more raspberry purée at the bottom of the soufflé dish, but we both agreed that the all important soufflé could not be improved. And the splodge of ice cream was pretty good as well.

Clifford Mould June 2008

Embassy London
29 Old Burlington Street
London W1
Tel: 020 7851 0956


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