So the other night, I stepped back in time and into a sumptuous world far removed from anything that I’ve seen of late.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in.
In a recent FT article, the inventive restaurateur Alan Yau described of his latest venture – Park Chinois – a “1920s dance hall”, with the music “a mixture of the Cotton Club meets Japanese haiku.”
The reality? A far more mesmerising experience that presented a veritable feast for the senses. Alas, for this vegetarian though – all that glitters was not gold when it came to the food…
But let’s start at the very beginning, at the majestic entrance that stands out among the commercial establishments lining Mayfair’s Berkeley Street…
Anticipation bubbled, as I walked past the illuminated shadows and into a lush
lobby lair, outfitted with rich Oriental patterns, sparkling black and white marble, walls draped lavishly with velvet, and stunning gold details.
A fire roared away in the grand fireplace, lending much warmth to the ambience. Ostentatious yes, but also rather cosy.
To the main dining room next, past the gorgeous bar marbled in emerald green. It’s a long and vast space that’s divided across a raised U-shaped platform with a grand piano towards the far end. Words would fail to do it poetic justice but the FT does sum it up quite nicely as “falling into a David Lynch fantasy of a Versailles-styled speakeasy.”
Expect elaborate golden candelabras and magenta lampshades; pillars decked out with mirrored tiles; oriental, floral prints against the pale blue fabrics covering the elegant yet comfy seating… and more intricate draping adorning the walls, which more than make up for the conspicuous absence of any windows in this room.
I’m afraid that the restaurant’s policy wasn’t all that conducive to walking around to get good photographs of the interiors (#bloggerfail)… so, I’ve linked-up to their Instagram pictures instead.
The striking aesthetics add much to the overall theatrics at the core of Yau’s new establishment. As it says on the website, Park Chinois is all about “being entertained and delighting people, with grace, charm and elegance.”
And true to word, we were quite joyously entertained by a live performance from a pianist; on most evenings one may also find a singer in the first-floor dining room, while the in-house seven piece band Eight Clouds of Joy keep things moving downstairs in “Club Chinois.”
With the scene so royally set, cocktails were very much in order as we set upon our evening.
Unfortunately, the first round was highly unmemorable. So much so, that I cannot for the life of me remember exactly what we had. Pretty numbers they may have been, but they made for a poor marriage of flavours.
Sensing that these libations were less than well received, the head bartender appeared by our table to gauge our likes and dislikes, in a very thoughtful bid to concoct the perfect cocktail tailored to our tastes. In my case, this resulted in a fresh blackberry martini with a zesty citrus note. Much, much better.
But it was all a bit downhill from there.
So the food menu is divided across five categories: Peking Duck, Commence, First, Second, and Vegetable.
My dinner companion Anokhi (who you might remember from our trek to the Forest Restaurant & Bar at Selfridges) decided to go vegetarian as well – a choice I’m sure that she later regretted, as almost everything we sampled was found lacking in any depth of flavour.
We started with a heritage carrot, lily bulb salad – a bland combination of almost raw, under-seasoned vegetables.
Wild mushroom, braised tofu and homemade rice noodles were a humdrum affair – a strong kick of cloves was the only texture that surfaced, but didn’t do much to make this dish any more palatable.
More drabness with the hakka paneer, served with black beans. It utterly lacked any fiery undertone.
The biggest disappointment came with in the form of a big bowl of chickpeas, lotus seed and spinach – a dish which was highly recommended to us by the restaurant.
It literally tasted as though a can of chickpeas had been opened, tossed around with some blanched spinach, and served – on the undercooked side – with some nutmeg sprinkled on top.
Anokhi’s reaction upon having had a taste? We may have been better off with hummus at Maroush.
Unwisely continuing to follow the restaurant’s suggestions, we opted for a Coconut Park for dessert – a coconut cake covered in 60% dark chocolate and served with sour raspberries and edible flowers. Beautifully presented, but quite underwhelming. A Bounty gone wrong? Anokhi pondered.
So there we were. Enthralled by the ambience, the decor, the service, the music… But completely disenchanted by the lacklustre food. It definitely brought up a strong sense of déjà vu from our meal earlier this year at Duck & Rice, Yau’s Chinese gastropub in Soho.
Mind you, this is coming purely from a vegetarian perspective – I coincidentally knew two other groups dining there the same evening, and one friend reported back that the braised beef ribs were so good that they melted in her mouth; while caramelised pineapple with rum hit a sweet note as they finished their meal.
One might say that perhaps we were expecting too much by way of veggie wonders given the nature and focus of Park Chinois’ menu?
I’d beg to disagree on several counts.
First and foremost given the Yau Factor. Some of the best vegetarian Asian food I’ve ever had is at Hakkasan – a restaurant originally established by Alan Yau.
Second, I’d like to say that I don’t necessarily expect an abundance of choice. I had a fantastic dinner at the Grill last week – there were only three veggie mains on the menu but the pumpkin risotto was so good that my non-vegetarian friend may actually order it next time around.
And while opinions continue to remain firmly divided over Sexy Fish, it’s amazing that a restaurant with such a name would offer a dedicated vegetarian/ vegan menu – I found their nasu miso to be even sharper than the signature version at an all-time favourite, Nobu.
So in sum, I expect that I might very well find my way back to Park Chinois…. but it almost certainly would be just for a drink or a dance in the club downstairs.
Park Chinois, 17 Berkeley Street, London, W1J 8EA
What a shame about the food! I love the look of those cocktails though!
Lots of love,
The food was really disappointing, and to be honest most of the cocktails looked a lot better than they tasted..
Such a shame as initial build up sounded exciting! Great review and will bear this in mind. May x
Thanks so much May! I’d be really keen to know how the non veg highlights stack up… So do let me know of your experience if you go 🙂 xx
What a shame you did not enjoy the food and drinks. We went last Monday and had a fantastic time. I ordered Potted Pumpkin Rice for my vegetarian dish and it was fantastic. Highly recommend it for vegetarians, if you fancy giving Park Chinois another try. My friend had Guinea Fowl as a non-vegetarian and she loved it.
Hi May, so glad to hear that food & drinks have improved since its opening – I’ll be keen to give it another try, and when I do I’ll definitely heed your recommendation for mains + dessert. I loved your description of the restaurant in your blog post btw! X
I guess the people who understands the industry should ask the question, with such a big investment how is the staff treated there?? My understanding is that bad, really bad!!!!!! I hear of mass sackings lately for no apparent reason!!! Worth to find out what this place is really all about!!!!