I'm convinced that the people behind Downtown Mayfair aka Cipriani (Sorry, C), round two, are completely nuts. Opening a restaurant in a recession is brave. Without any fan fare or press releases is ballsy. To charge the prices that Downtown does is pushing it. But to open what is effectively the same resturant ten minutes walk from the original really pushes the concept into the upper bounds of insanity.
I can understand the gamble. "Talked about in the right circles" works much better for a restaurant like C and Downtown, where the clientele are much more interested in each other than the food. Unfortunately, I don't think the gamble has paid off. It has taken a while for The Boyfriend to make it there, I was put off by the whole C brand by some incredibly average food at the original location, but I felt it is one of those places good to see at least once. We arrived at 8pm on a Thursday, to find a beautiful, but empty restaurant. The venue is gorgeous. They've gone for a 1920s feel, with an art deco style bar, laquered wood, waiters in bow ties. We were able to appreciate the physicality of the restaurant with a completely uninterrupted view, as only the second party occupying the space.
As we had booked in advance, and were at the mercy of pretty much undivided attention from the staff, you would think they could have at least prepared our table for the accurate number of diners. Instead they waited until we arrived and then decided to remove the uneccessary additional two place settings after re-confirming noone else will be joining. I've experienced a similar thing at Cecconi's, and personally I consider it "I can't be bothered" attitude from the restaurant, one wouldn't expect from an empty restaurant.
We started with a selection of unremarkable bread, and bread sticks. The baguette had been toasted, which to me screamed "using slightly stale bread and trying to cover it". The choice of butter, rather than oil seemed odd in an Italian restaurant. The menu is classic Italian, with a random addition of sushi, for those who just can't choose between the two. I am ashamed to admit, that after a month without sushi, I was really craving the stuff so this suited me just fine.
I started with a surprisingly good Salmon Avocado Roll, which although poorly constructed was beautifully presented and built on very fresh ingredients. Although not the best sushi in the world, it was by no means the worst.
The Boyfriend's Artichoke and Avocado Salad, adorned with layers of parmesan was probably the best of its type I've had. The artichoke was used to create a dressing for the salad, and it was surprisingly moorish. Worth its price tag of twenty pounds? I'm not entirely sure.
Given I was mixing food types as it were, I would have appreciated ten minutes or so to allow myself to get back on the Italian bandwagon and digest a litte. We were given no such option. As they were clearing away our starters our main courses were being dished out. Something I've never experienced before, and again certainly wouldn't expect to in a still fairly empty restaurant. Were they in a race? Did they really need our table for the hoards of people dying to get a table? Could the kitchen not handle such large quantities of orders coming in? At such large prices, dining should not feel utilitarian, or like the staff are just trying to get the experience over. No we didn't take particularly long to eat our starters, and even if we did, a better managed restaurant would have noticed that the flow of the meal was about to be put off.
To add insult to injury, The Boyfriend's Rigatoni alla Amatriciana could have benefitted from more cooking. The pasta arrived in a large oven proof dish, but only the centre pasta managed to avoid a level of crunchiness way past al dente. The sauce however was good. The pancetta added a lovely smokiness to the tomato, but definitely not the best I've encountered.My Veal Picattina, was well cooked, and I enjoyed the richness of the sauce, though the rice that accompanied it was overly salty, greasy and undercooked.
By the time we had got the bill and paid it was 9 o'clock. I have heard that Hakkasan has the title for the most expensive restaurant per minute of dining in London at £1.23. In our hour at Downtown, The Boyfriend and I shot well above that at £2 or so a minute. The bill did include a small caraffe of white wine, two courses, and questionable service.
C works as a restaurant because people are willling to spend on average food, if the atmosphere and clientele are good enough. Downtown, lacks even that having the atmospheric quality of a hotel lobby. Maybe this is one of those places that gets busy at 10pm, once the Banker crowd starts to leave the office, but as we left at 9pm the restaurant was still three quarters empty.