Restaurant Review: Kettner's
Published: March 2009
A Soho institution has a makeover but Gareth Davis asks if it was worth the effort …
KETTNER’S - LONDON UK
There are surprisingly few eateries on London’s sprightly restaurant scene that maintain a sense of continuity and dare I say it, history. But one of those to date, a stalwart of Bohemian Soho, has been Kettner’s. Founded in the 1870s by Napoleon III’s chef de choix, Auguste Kettner, its dark wood panelled walls and private dining spaces were favourite haunts of Oscar Wilde, Edward VII, Lillie Langtry and other late Victorian partygoers. Even its transformation into a pizzeria, courtesy of the Pizza Express chain in 1980, did little to detract from its glorious past and plush though raddled décor. And now, after months of renovation, Kettner’s has given itself a kick up the cornicing and is back – as a brasserie.
I’m a great fan of brasserie fare, at least the good stuff, but Kettner’s has a problem; the old lady’s all-dressed up and what she’s serving ain’t up to much.
The property is still owned by The Gondola Group, who also own Pizza Express, but the aim is for Kettner’s to occupy its own niche. All the dark wood that lined the staircase has been painted over. Now the space is all airy modern neutrals; taupes and whites and creams. The plush tired carpeting has been replaced by hard tile and though the pianist plays on, the chandeliers twinkle, and there’s the popping of corks from the champagne bar next door, the overall feel is clinical. Ilse Crawford’s design has replaced the table linen with swathes of Carrera marble and other bits of furniture that fail to achieve eclecticism. It all just looks downright odd. I can see the stab at Belle Epoque but it’s a stab in the dark.
The menu is fairly standard brasserie fare – French onion soup at €7, steak tartare at €10, foie gras at €12, and duck confit at €16; all favourites of mine. The problem is that what I opted for, just failed abysmally to get up and running; a leek and gruyere tart at €8 that was in desperate need of seasoning, possibly the dullest tart ever laid before me. This was followed by a Boeuf Bourguignon at €16 that was nattily served in a little copper pan and certainly upped the ante on flavour but also outdid the fat quota. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I encountered so much fat in a restaurant dish.
It’s a sad comment that pizza (and let’s face it, Pizza Expresses pizzas are pretty darn good) has been replaced by such piecemeal fare. I visited Kettner’s on a Friday night and the place was buzzing. My concern is how long the buzz will last.
Restaurant Review: Kettner's
Gareth has been with TRAVEL CHANNEL since its launch in 1994. He has produced and presented on TRAVEL LIVE and THE TRAVEL BUG, produced ESSENTIAL... and reports on TRAVEL TODAY. He is a regular contributor to the website. In 2010 he produced the hit series THE HOLIDAY SHOW which he also co-presented with Ginny Buckley. Gareth’s passions are history, culture, food & drink.
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