Tuesday, 11 October 2011
The Collection, Knightsbridge
There was a time a decade or two back, hard as it is to believe now, when The Collection was one of the hottest tables in town. Ideally located on the ever-desirable Brompton Road, it regularly played host to A-listers and assorted international glamour-pusses, the rest of the clientele carefully hand-picked out of the star struck hordes that would queue up every night. But yet, like the Met Bar before it or Mo*vida since, stars waned, times changed, and the Collection found itself out of favour. The George Michaels and Paris Hiltons began to book their parties elsewhere, the original owners lost interest and moved on, and by the time I first visited for a friend's birthday in 2006, the huge dining hall was half empty, and without the celebrity factor to support it the menu exposed as directionless and overpriced. I guess that's the problem with running a business aimed at fickle, fame-hungry poseurs - without anything substantial in terms of food or value to fall back on, it's all built on sand.
But now, in 2011, the Collection has been refurbished and relaunched, with a new menu, a new Italian head chef and apparently (though my memory isn't good enough to recall exactly what it was like pre-refurb) a new design inside and out. On the subject of that redesign though, I'm not sure how successful it's been. Whether or not you thought it was a good restaurant overall, one of the standout features of the old Collection was a long, underlit entrance hall which arced gently towards the glittering bar in the far distance. Last night, the underlighting had gone and the same journey felt rather less like a glamorous catwalk and a bit more like one of the pedestrianised subways under Elephant and Castle. The vast bar is still there, though, and I started the evening with something from the Chelsea-themed cocktail list, Granny Takes A Trip. It tasted a bit like mouthwash but I suppose mouthwash is refreshing.
You'll have to excuse the hideous photos which go nowhere near doing the food justice - it was so dark in there I would have nothing to show you if I didn't use the flash, but fortunately as one of only two tables taken last night (understandable I guess on a windy Monday night) I didn't think I'd be bothering anyone too much. Fresh house bread (I always like it when restaurants make their own bread) consisted of focaccia, a crunchy baguette and some kind of strange greasy parcel thing completely covered in salt but which I rather enjoyed in a heart-attackey sort of way. There were three different flavoured oils to dip them in, too, one of which was truffle. I like truffle.
At first I was pleasantly surprised that the "starters" all came in under £10 (this is Knightsbridge after all) but it turns out one of the concessions the New Collection has made to 2011 dining was the ubiquitous Small Plates concept, and we were advised to order at least three between two. Buffalo tartar was my favourite, cleverly hiding a quails egg within, although the accompanying crispbread was way too salty to eat - I scraped off a layer of the stuff so thick I could have seasoned an entire porterhouse with it. Burrata was very good (and very salty too) with more of that (very salty) crispbread, and a scallop carpaccio used good fresh ingredients and looked very pretty on the plate. Quite salty though.
Mains were, for various reasons that I think you may have picked up on by now, nearly right. A 250g sirloin steak, of good beef and cooked medium-rare, was so hugely oversalted I had to eat it between desperate gulps of tap water, and the weirdly bland tomato purée it was served with (not to mention the deathly unimaginative - ugh - rocket and tomato salad) didn't do anything for it. But, it was charred nicely, smelled of lovely barbeque smoke and the chips were very good if a bit-, oh, you get the picture. Barbequed grouper, coated in a thick, treacly marinade although cooked to flaky perfection, was served on top of a mound of crunchy samphire. And the thing about samphire is, it's quite salty.
One of the desserts, a pineapple carpaccio with chilli jelly, was lovely. A good mixture of flavours and very well presented, the chilli wasn't too strong and just got the tastebuds tingling alongside blobs of sharp lemon sorbet. The other, a warm pistachio tartlet, wasn't so enjoyable - the tart itself was fine, but it was served under a huge, thick ring of solid chocolate which rather put the whole thing off-balance. We still finished it off though, probably because it was one of only a couple of dishes all evening that hadn't been caked in sodium.
There will be plenty of people out there, I'm sure, who will thoroughly enjoy an evening at Collection. Just as I would never have been found in the queue out on Brompton Road hoping to catch a glimpse of Prince Harry tucking into his veal chop in the early noughties, I am certainly not now, with my shallow pockets and natural aversion to superficial Sloaney glamour, anything approaching Collection's target audience. All I can really safely comment on is whether the food and drink is worth the money, and I'm afraid it's not, at least not quite. A meal in Knightsbridge is always going to cost more than one in Whitechapel but with the unhinged approach to seasoning and the fact that most of the dishes on the overlong, geographically vague menu were if not exactly wrong then at the very least unadventurous, there's still better to be had elsewhere, even round these parts. The Collection has its place perhaps, but it's not for me.
I was invited to review The Collection