Published 3 December 1995 Style Magazine 126th article
Seasons to be cheerful: Vanessa Perry, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Michael Winner (Sergio Noci)
You could not call the Four Seasons restaurant in Park Lane an elegant room. I am hard pressed to know what to call it other than a place I do not wish to sit in again. The whole hotel is a lesson in how not to decorate. Different styles, all phoney, different wall coverings, chair coverings, floor coverings are plonked there, unmatching and incoherent. The hotel itself is not inefficient. The staff are rather good. The breakfast room was where those magical Israelis Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus used to summon me to endless meetings: "Cut the budget by 30% or else we close down the movie!" I nodded my head in agreement, went off and ignored them. All accompanied by a highly creditable eggs and bacon and toast and things. The function rooms are ugly, but functional.
I phoned to book Sunday lunch. When I asked where I should sit, Sergio Noci, the assistant restaurant manager, said: "Are you coming with a beautiful lady, or is it business?" An intelligent question, I thought. I replied: "With beauty." "We have some romantic booths," he said.
The romantic booths were at the side and cramped, so we chose a large table by the window that had an uninterrupted view of the Park Lane traffic and the Hilton Hotel. We faced the room, some flowers and an archway to the bar, and I noted that, for atmosphere, a minus zero would be too good. At 1.35pm there were only 11 other people in the place. Dress code is casual. The diners thought that meant awful. A pianist tinkled from the bar. Vanessa asked for a chicken freshly cooked, so they bunged one on. Thinking I'd get bored waiting, they kindly gave us both an extra starter to follow their good, hot walnut bread. I had tartare of diced trout and Vanessa had queen scallops with polenta. Both were fine, if you could tolerate the increasing boredom of the room. The service throughout was exemplary. Then came the real first course: baby squid, salmon and langoustine kebab with wild roquette. Also good. I could see why the young chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli, had a Michelin star.
The main course took us downhill. Vanessa actively hated her chicken and the stuffing. "It was horrible, I could have stopped eating it," she said later. And indeed she did. I thought it was okay but no more. Texture and taste not the greatest. I had beef from the trolley, not roast but a ﬁllet, that was pleasant, but the pommes gratin were unexciting, to say the least, and the roast potatoes, which Sergio said I should try because they were so good, weren't. I don't know why so many posh restaurants can’t roast a potato. Housewives know the skin has to be crispy hardish and the inside soft. These were better than the Ritz, but that's not saying much. My beans were undercooked to the point of ridiculous. Then Jean-Christophe redeemed himself with the dessert. I was strongly recommended the contreverse an chocolat. A pompous bit of labelling for a truly terrific steamed chocolate pud with chocolate sauce inside it! And a delicious home-made vanilla ice. Definitely one of the best desserts ever. Vanessa had a meringue shaped like a swan and some berries. She later said: "Well, it was a meringue. The fact that it was like a swan didn't matter, really!"
The petits fours were a variety of chocolates, all right but not historic, and some brandy snaps. Personally, I like a big display! Icing-caked gooseberries, tiny cakes, that sort of thing, but outside of Claridge's and the Dorchester, where are they? We were then joined by the chef, Jean-Christophe, an exceptionally pleasant and charming young man who took me round the kitchen. After a recent amazing television documentary (not showing the Four Seasons), I expected to see bashed-about helpers prostrate and bleeding on the floor, but there were none. It was spotless. Did they clean up, I wondered? I give the Four Seasons 6½ on my Sunday-lunch score, down because of the room, the cooking's worth more. The set lunch is £28 including coffee, petits fours and service.
The Four Seasons definitely has problems. Luckily I know exactly how to solve them. Give all the staff, who are excellent, five years off on full pay. Knock down the hotel and build another. Make sure it's well designed and stylishly decorated. Gosh, I bet they're glad I'm here to help.
Having been impressed by his New York restaurant, Jo Jo, I recently attended the opening of Jean Georges Vongerichten's London restaurant, Vong, in Knightsbridge. This was a truly gastronomic event, with the merging of French/Thai cuisine working successfully through a number of outstanding courses from tuna spring rolls to spiced rack of lamb. Of equal note, Jean Georges is a friendly, unassuming and low-profile professional, which is more than can be said for some of his immediate competitors in the neighbourhood.
Michael Sarasin, Richmond, Surrey