Let’s be honest. If you were planning a night out in London you probably wouldn’t choose a large chain hotel in the middle of a traffic island opposite a hospital. Let alone one with a restaurant that looks like a nightclub. But you’d be missing one of the best meals in London
The place and the name Brasserie Joel give no indication of the pedigree of the enterprise. This is the return to London of one of the best chefs of the '90s, Joel Antunes.
Our meal today included a nicely judged Thai coconut soup with crab dumplings, freshened with shards of lime leaf (great with our bottle of Ostertag Sylvaner Vieiles Vignes), a lovely lobster cobb salad made with freshly cooked (not chilled) lobster, an umami-blast of hand-dived scallops with ceps and gnocchi (great if you were drinking white burgundy) and an odd but surprisingly successful combination of pork cheek with bok choy, chorizo and kumquat. (Antunes spent quite a while travelling and cooking in south-east Asia I seem to remember.)
Then there were the desserts: a fabulously trashy popcorn bread and butter pudding with caramel ice cream (above) that tasted like it might have dated from his time in Atlanta, a light, elegant fruit minestrone with lemon sorbet and a semi freddo with chocolate crumble which was confusingly more like a coffee granita sundae. The only underwhelming note.
The odd thing is that these dishes, with the exception of the soup, are not available until the evening. We managed to order them by doing a bit of eyelash fluttering and arm twisting but I don't know if you could do the same. And the lunch menu, which seems designed to attract the wandering tourist or hospital visitor is really quite humdrum - a burger, a fish pie, a lasagne ...you could be dining in any London local. There are some slightly more interesting dishes of the day - saucisse en brioche and a traditional coq au vin - but obviously not enough to grab the punters. The restaurant was three quarters empty. Why wasn’t that lobster salad on the lunch menu - the perfect lunchtime dish?
It strikes me that the main problem is that the hotel hasn’t quite decided what it wants Brasserie Joel to be - a brasserie or a fine dining joint so it’s a bit of both. If you want to experience the real Antunes and not pay the fairly hefty prices on the la carte go early evening (5.30-7.30pm) for the pre-theatre menu which is a total steal at £16.95 for two dishes and £19.95 for three. And includes - at the time of writing - that popcorn pudding.