Wednesday, 24 July 2013
The Dining Room at the Playboy Club, Mayfair
Having now discovered that the Playboy Club is a grim, soul-throttling throwback of a place, populated (I use the word loosely) by old perverts with more money than sense, it's difficult to cast my mind back to the time before I sat down to eat there when my hopes were still high. But you have to take my word on this, they were. I knew more or less what to expect - girls in silly costumes, high prices, glitzy Vegas interiors - but people whose opinion I trusted really liked the food, and though the chances of me ever risking my own paycheque on the place were fairly low, the point of these PR invites is often nothing more than to tempt press and bloggers to anywhere not on the usual London foodie list.
As a friend and I soon realised, however, the Playboy Club restaurant is not on any foodie list because it doesn't deserve to be. If I was a gambler, well, there's a casino. If I had £10k burning a hole in my pocket and wanted a bit of theatre, there's the cabaret nightclub Baroque downstairs. But why would anyone, short of those too trapped in addiction to leave the building between blackjack deals, choose to spend such a ludicrous amount of money on such mediocre food?
If there's one small droplet of hope to be squeezed out of our experience last night, it's thanks to the extremely pleasant service from our waitress, who at least gave the whole thing a human face, and was (a relief for all of us I'm sure) not forced to wear a bunny costume. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, too, and assume that it was management's idea to proffer a bottle of chardonnay the moment we sat down instead of letting us loose on the wine list ("If they look like they might fleece us on the seafood", I can imagine the staff meeting going, "just make damn sure they drink nothing but the house white").
Appetisers were, in decreasing order of edibility, a £15 shrimp cocktail in a martini glass containing crunchy fridge-cold seafood drowning in sickly sweet sauce; completely bizarre beef "bulgogi" buns, tasting rather less of the advertised kimchi and rather more of gristly beef, mayonnaise, avocado and insipid tomato - imagine if you'd taken the filling from a Pret sandwich and put it inside a Korean steamed bun; and half a dozen spatting rock oysters ("natives" on the menu), swollen with shellfish spunk, which even the most casual of glances from the kitchen would have declared unfit to serve.
While the horror of the starters was still sinking in, a glass tray arrived with a little chunk of Forman's smoked salmon on it. The salmon itself would have been fine - not Frank Hederman good, but fine - had the super-chilled glass not begun to ice up the base of it, although I think amongst all the dishes this was the only one we managed to finish, so it can't have been too much of an issue.
Of the mains, Dover Sole was the least terrifying, but we did think it slightly odd that it was presented first with its head, tail and skin already removed, taken away for deboning, then brought back looking pretty much identical a few minutes later. The flesh was nice and firm, though, and though it could have taken a touch more salt, it wasn't bad at all.
The basic "Hef burger" is £40. I think that's worth repeating. This burger - beef and salad in a bun, with chips - is £40. Cheese (gruyere) is £1.50 extra, bacon an extra £2. Should you want to load it with, say, a bit of avocado (£2) or chipotle chilli (£3) you could, once service is added, be staring down the barrel of £55, which would be an extraordinary amount to pay for even the greatest burger in the world.
Now, I hardly need to say, the Hef burger is not the greatest burger in the world. It's probably not even the best burger at the Playboy club. The Chilean wagyu used for the patty was way too fatty and rich, the texture of jelly (stored ready-seasoned perhaps) and hadn't been seared properly so had little char or colour. The gruyere cheese very soon solidified like candle wax around the beef, and was cold and chalky. And the bun, oversweet and as dry as camping bed foam, was no better than anything you could pick up from your local supermarket. Add in a slick of mayonnaise, another watery slice of tomato and some canteen lettuce and you have yourself one of London's great ripoff dishes.
OK, so. The Hef burger, the bunnies, the black marble, the high-roller cocktail list with the £500 Negroni made from 60-year-old vermouth, none of these are really things I'd ordinarily spend my time worrying about. I am clearly not the target audience for the product that the Playboy Club is offering, and maybe the kind of people that would find the idea of the above attractive (based on the sample last night, blowsy old men and groups of Chinese gambling addicts, and not too many of either of those) will happily chuck £50 at a burger and don't care you can get something many times better around the corner at Goodman for £15.
But I've got a job to do here, and it's to ask anyone who isn't an affluent, lecherous moron to leave the Playboy Club to those most likely to appreciate it, and spend your money elsewhere. We eventually left that deserted restaurant, swatting away the fruit flies which plagued our table, through the room of grim-faced men (and it was all men) chucking their money at women dressed as animals, sick from the food, the atmosphere, the sheer ugly vulgarity of it all, and emerged gasping onto the streets of Mayfair as if we'd escaped some hideous Dantean nightmare. I hope, I hope with every inch of my soul, that I'll never have cause to go back.
I was invited to review the Dining Room at the Playboy Club