Chez Nico - cheznico (London)
I have not been in London for more than a year. I was very sad to read that my favourite restaurant Chez Nico at 90 has been downgraded in food and service quality in order to lower prices at the end of last year. Can anyone tell me in how far things have changed? Apart from the briliant food I always used to be impressed by the attentiveness and the "french" professionalism of the service in black and white. Have those gentlemen (and one sommelière as far as I remember) all left to other places? Has the place lost its distinctive and exclusive atmosphere?
I am looking forward to any messages,
I have only eaten once at Chez Nico -- post-downgrade and post-Ladenis' daily involvement in the restaurant. Just like The Oak Room post-Marco Pierre White's daily involvement, Chez Nico does not offer food for which I would return. If the food is not inspired, good service can't compensate. By the way, the service was not polished; wine list also did not impress.
Note Oak Room remains as expensive as before, even though Chez Nico is cheaper than before. For Oak Room dinner prices, consider: Gordon Ramsay -- sublime; La Tante Claire -- note move from Royal Hospital Road location, which is now Ramsay's pad, to Berkeley Hotel; Waterside Inn in Bray (home of Michel and Alain Roux; less than 1.5 hours by train from London -- go to Maidenhead train station).
For prices comparable to or lower than dinner at Chez Nico, my suggestions would be:
1. Gordon Ramsay Lunch, if you can book it. Note bookings are accepted exactly one month in advance of the date; attempt to call beginning around 8:25 am. Prices are significantly cheaper than dinner. Thierry Berson is an amazing sommelier :)
2. Waterside Inn Lunch. They have prix fixe menus that are a little bit less expensive than ordering a la carte. Setting is beautiful -- next to the Thames, with an overarching large willow tree. (Also in Bray is Fat Duck, a restaurant I have not visited but which is rumored to be decent.)
3. Petrus Lunch. This is a restaurant co-owned by Ramsay with a chef mentored by him. Might be a possibility if Ramsay is full.
4. Club Gascon Dinner. This is near the Barbican Tube station, and has wonderful for foie gras (one preparation I had was in a dessert, with the essence of violets). If you go there, consider sampling the banyuls wine, which a number of chefs now use from time to time in their dishes (including Ramsay and the Pourcel brothers at Jardin de Sens in Montpellier, a restaurant I will soon try).
5. Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House -- If cost is an issue, consider pre-theater meals. Wholly apart from price, this restaurant is worth visiting.
6. Mju Lunch, at Millenium Knightsbridge Hotel on Sloane St. close to Harvey Nics. This is Tetsuya (yes, that one) venture, but chef is only in residence for at most 1 week a month (if that). Portions are small, and this restaurant is, like Tetsuya's other restaurant, fusion Japanese-French. But worthy of consideration, unless you can visit the Sydney restaurant soon.
7. La Trompette Dinner. In Chiswick (not sure spelling), which is a bit distanced from central London. Created by group that owns The Square and Chez Bruce. Wonderful food at very reasonable prices. Good service too.
8. Rules Dinner (only if you like game). This is London's oldest restaurant, and not strong in all areas. Service is reprehensible, and most of the food is mediocre. However, Rules does have its own game park, and the strong, pungent taste of red grouse is unusual (in a good way). The red grouse live in the moorlands in Britain, and have an indescribable taste inspired in part by the heather they gobble up there.
I'm surprised at the knocking of the Oak Room that I've read...I am not at all a fan of the owner but, whilst not in the "best meals of my life" category, I have this summer had two very good meals there. The service was polished, the sommelier, whilst odd, was knowledgeable in his recommendations and the food was almost universally well executed, largely classic French. We ate once from the Carte and once from the Menu Gastronomique. On the second occasion they had taken the chocolate souffle off the menu but a request at booking resulted in a very willing delivery of the same-though it was fractionally underooked and not even my favourite dessert!
I found Lindsay House to be way more expensive, also for the menu gastronomique and though the service was extremely charming (well, for central London anyway) it took from 8 pm to midnight for the staff to drag through the meal. I'd heard before that the service was painfully slow and it certainly was! Some of the dishes were excellent and some were-um-eccentric and didn't really work. It was pretty good but terribly costly.
I am still looking forward to going to La Trompette-references to the Square notwithstanding (again, maybe a bad night-I will never forget the cheeses of various provenance on the trolley upon which, which on account of their perspiring appearance and cracked carapaces, I could not help commenting, drawing the crassly tart response from the waitress (who seemd to have been in the job for about a week) that "They are meant to look like that". Nor the sommelier with "attitude" to the point of overt rudeness. Nor the exchange "How would you like your pork done?" (pork fillet with ragout of wild mushrooms) (reply: "Well cooked") with (disappointedly) "Oh-the chef normally does it pink". You wouldn't believe how superciliously that can be said. On the other hand, if you've eaten there, maybe you would. It arrived punitively overcooked and tough (though in a sublime sauce!) Given its reputation I genuinely think that I had a bad night there-but I haven't rushed to go back.)
I was taken to to Le Caprice on Sunday. I've never been before-great brasserie food-I had a really good crispy duck and watercress salad and a grilled rib of beef. I have no idea how much it cost as mercifully a friend paid. Very professional service. It was bizarrely like walking back into the early eighties though, both in the glossy black decor and the clientele. All the women seemed to look like Joan Rivers or Shirley Bassey (maybe they were!) and the men had that elderly wealthy Sunday night look. It was very smoky but fun. I do hope it wasn't too pricey ......