Monday, 20 December 2010

Theo Randall at the Intercontinental, Park Lane


For a restaurant in the basement of a not very attractive building (the boxy Intercontinental), Theo Randall doesn't seem to be trying particularly hard to stand out. Around the back of Park Lane, past a windswept taxi rank and through double doors to a bare, echoey corridor, you finally arrive at the above. Hardly inviting, is it? Looks more like a corporate boardroom than the entrance to a fine dining restaurant, but fortunately the pleasant staff inside do their best with the less than cosy surroundings (think Bar Boulud, only not quite so characterful) and by the time we got around to ordering our hearts - not to mention our toes - had thawed somewhat.



It's a big menu, with just about enough variety to satisfy most dietary requirements. Beef carpaccio, fried scallops, sage and ricotta ravioli, sea bass with potatoes, all hearty and rustic and fine, but even at this stage, I was worried. It all seemed very... if not dull - that would probably be unfair - but uninspiring. There were very few unusual ingredients, save a bit of lobster or white truffle, or exciting sounding dishes - in fact, it would be a stretch to describe anything on this menu at all as unique in London. The only eyebrow-raising thing, in fact, were the prices - £18 for said scallops as a starter, £12 for the vegetarian ravioli, £30 for the sea bass; I realise that location plays a part on the mark-ups and you can't serve anything too wacky to a 5* hotel crowd, but I couldn't help feeling underwhelmed. And that was even before the food arrived.


Against expectations, my calamari in padella were actually a pretty generous portion - so generous, in fact, I was worried I was filling up too quickly and left half of them. They were decent enough - cooked correctly, nicely seasoned with the salty anchovy and chilli, not much to complain about on that front, and the presentation made sense in the context of rustic Italian food if not really in the context of a Park Lane hotel restaurant. Nice, though.


We had a portion of the veal cappelletti split between two, in a budget-minded attempt to sample as much variety as possible. I'm afraid we detected very little of the veal and pancetta filling, and what was there was rather bland, and although the flavour of the pasta itself was good - eggy, obviously fresh, and seasoned well - it was rolled quite thickly and seemed rather clumsy. Contrast, for example, with these wonderful ravioli from Trullo, altogether more balanced, glossily addictive and about half the price.


Marinated, wood roasted pigeon with pancetta is the kind of thing I will always order when I see it on a menu. I love pigeon, and this example didn't disappoint at all, being gamey and bloody and amazingly plump - in fact it was probably the biggest pigeon I've ever seen in my life, almost the size of a small chicken. I liked this dish, from the crispy fried pancetta to the bitter radicchio, and the mixture of textures and flavours were very good indeed, but then you'd hope so for £30. The pigeon and pancetta at Polpetto is £7. Just saying.

And talking of Polpetto, here we have our problem in a nutshell. Perhaps four years ago when it opened (my how time flies), Theo Randall would have been one of the few places serving good Italian fare in the centre of London. Perhaps paying slightly more to go here for your beef carpaccio or veal chop would have been preferable to risking the local Mamma Mia or (shudder) Spaghetti House and it all would have made more sense - certainly, the rave reviews I read in those early days have stuck with me and it's a shame it's taken me this long to visit. But I can't help that right now, in 2010, although perfectly decent, Theo Randall is playing second fiddle to Polpo/Polpetto, Zucca, Trullo and (though I'm yet to visit myself) Tinello, and the fact is there is better food out there, and for less. Now, more than ever, a good restaurant experience is made by the perception of value, and at £156 for two (admittedly including a £39 wine but there wasn't much on the list under £35) for a decent but hardly stunning meal, I really can't describe this as such. Other than the hefty prices, Theo Randall at the Intercontinental aren't doing much wrong, it's just a shame for them that, thanks to the efforts of a handful of exciting new Italian restaurants across the capital, the rules of the game have changed.

5/10

Theo Randall on Urbanspoon

12 comments:

Ute@HungryinLondon said...

Very interesting review. I decided never to go to Theo Randall after I sampled one of his pasta dishes at one of the taste festivals - so overcooked you couldn't call it pasta anymore. And it appears I was right in my suspicion...

The Ginger Gourmand said...

A joy to read - the way you describe the food perhaps makes it sound more delicious than (some of) it was... What a shame that it didn't live up to expectations but good to read a review that is refreshingly honest without being unnecessarily derogatory. Theo seems a thoroughly nice bloke - perhaps, as you point out, the setting just isn't right, nor the prices which come with it. It may move a few places down my 'hit list' for now...

Lizzie said...

Polpetto don't do the pigeon dish anymore! Thick and tasteless pasta is a big no no in my book.

Douglas Blyde said...

Oh dear, I rate Theo. Remember when he took pleasure and pride making our group a bespoke bollito misto.

Alex C said...

Wow - seems Italian restaurants are opening up all over the place these days. Enjoyed your review of this too, thanks. I spotted Tinello (Locanda Locatelli's Pimlico-based second restaurant aimed at a more price conscious diner from what I've seen) the other day. If you do go I look forward to your take on it. I was hoping I might drag my office's xmas party there, but we ended up at the utterly pedestrian Tom's Kitchen. (Nothing on their menu I couldn't have cooked myself without the recipe, and I hope considerably better too, though the slow cooked lamb was pretty good).

linguinadc said...

So not so happy about Theo Randall? ok i have to admit it's quite expensive, but i really enjoyed all the dishes i had there. Maybe the price is a bit to pumped, but i found the food really fresh, tasty and well cooked. I need to try Polpo now...you made me so curious!

Andy Lynes said...

Looks like you entered through the tradesman's entrance! The front door is through the main hotel lobby and much more glam. By coincidence I ordered all the same dishes as you about three weeks ago - all fab especially the cappelletti.

Chris said...

Lizzie: I stand corrected! Said the man in the orthopaedic shoes.

Alex C: Tom's Kitchen really is dull isn't it. You poor thing. If it makes you feel any better, I went to the Bloomsbury Hotel ballroom for the office Xmas party this year, and it was really really bad.

Douglas/linguinadc/Andy: From comments I've received, and from the wonderful response from the restaurant itself to my review, I am definitely going to go and give it another go. I didn't *hate* any of the food, in fact I pretty much enjoyed all of it, but it wasn't quite as good as meals I've had at Trullo, Zucca and Polpetto, and it was twice the price.

Salty said...

Agree with Douglas - Theo is a very talented chef - but perhaps moving from the River Cafe to the Intercontinental was a mistake? and you're right - it's now much easier to find quality Italian for far less at Polpo, Trullo et al. It's the kind of food that begs for a bit of sunshine, not a faceless conference-style room. Can't help thinking he'd blossom somewhere far scruffier and more fun...

Mzungu said...

I went a couple of times just after it opened, and it was one of London's best kept secrets for a long while.
On one occasion we even got to go into the kitchen and meet the man himself. Really nice bloke.
It's a shame that by the sounds of it his standards have slipped a little.
I am planning on returning there sometime next year and I'm hoping it'll be as good as I remember it.

Scotty said...

Its a bit concerning, when someone claims expertise and then compares the food at theo randall with places like zucca and trullo.

if nothing else, the ambition's are not even comparable. and then, there is the produce quality...

fine as Trullo & Zucca are, they are economical facsimile's of the grand, ingredient led italians of Randall & the River cafe.

and that's without my considerable experience of the restaurants in question. Theo Randall's room is dire, to suggest the food is too rather surprising.

Chris said...

Scotty: I certainly don't claim to be an expert, but I enjoyed my meals at Trullo and Zucca more than my meal at Theo Randall, and they were less than half the price. I sometimes get the impression that if people are told that the ingredients are expensive they can more easily overlook the fact that they're paying way over the odds for their food, even if it doesn't taste that great.

The pasta at Trullo was better too, and that had little to do with ingredients.