The London restaurant scene is so vibrant and so diverse, you might wonder what a California chef has to bring to the table, other than a splash of sunshine.
In the case of Wolfgang Puck, the answer is a lot. CUT, which has opened at 45 Park Lane, serves some of the finest food in the U.K., with great ingredients perfectly cooked and expertly seasoned. It’s the kind of quality achieved only with a lifetime of experience and months of practice.
Though not well known in Europe, Puck is one of the giants of the American food world. When he’s not cooking or hanging out with friends such as Michael Caine, he’s traveling or appearing on the TV shows of other celebrities, such as chef Gordon Ramsay. Elton John says Puck’s CUT is his favorite restaurant in the U.S. and now he won’t have so far to go, Puck says.
He presides over about 20 fine-dining restaurants, including one at the revamped Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, and he’s best known for Spago and his Oscar parties. He owns about 50 Wolfgang Puck Express venues, and he sells everything from ready meals to cookware. He estimates his sales at $400 million. Forbes in 2008 estimated his personal income at $16 million.
CUT is a difficult space in London. The room is long and narrow, a bit like a corridor. The views onto Park Lane are fine, but when I sat at a window seat, I kept catching the eye of passing strangers. The decor is Dubai corporate chic, which isn’t chic in London, and however far the food transports you, it won’t be far enough for you to forget you’re in a hotel.
Having said that, the food is fabulous. Australian wagyu steak sashimi, spicy radishes, Greek cress (18 pounds/$28) may be as good as it gets with the starters, yet I am equally happy with the heirloom tomato salad, Neal’s Yard goat curd, white anchovies, aged balsamic, micro basil. The Austrian oxtail bouillon, chervil, bone marrow dumplings, is a hearty and authentic nod to Puck’s central European roots.
The steaks are as fine as any you will find in London. They are right up there with Hawksmoor and Goodman: Not better but more refined -- posh and almost ladylike in their elegance. If you want a bit of spice, the Armagnac and green peppercorn sauce will give you a little body heat. If you’re feeling more butch, the house-made steak sauce is as assertive as a drunk in a pub.
The seasoning is so assured, you’ll need to ask for salt or pepper (if you must) and the meat arrives well charred and as pink as you like in the middle. Over five meals, the seasoning was spot on, dish after dish. (I found the Dorset crab & Lobster cocktail starter a little too polite but I’m not a lady.)
On your behalf, I also tried the top-priced New York steak 6 ounce Australian Wagyu, Black Angus. This is soft and buttery and might melt your heart as well as your wallet, though I personally prefer my red meat a tad rougher.
The sides of tempura onion rings are brilliant -- crisp as a cash-machine fiver -- the French fries with herbs are exemplary, and the wild field mushrooms, Japanese shishito peppers are tops. If you are served a kobe beef slider as an amuse bouche, your life may be complete. The desserts are big and American and inventive.
The wine list offers the best American options I have come across in London and they are not all expensive. Vanessa Cinti is a sommelier I would trust with my wallet. She’s a Puck veteran, as are most of the chef’s team. The kitchen in London is headed by David McIntyre, who was over in the U.K. cooking the dishes for months before serving them to a paying customer.
I’m not crazy about the room and CUT hasn’t yet captured the best London style of service, which combines professionalism with a hint of informality. The music -- Elton, Pink Floyd, David Bowie -- is intrusive and may not be to everyone’s taste.
When it comes to the food, I almost wish I had five stars to hand out. In terms of sensual pleasure, it’s “When Harry Met Sally.” Yes, yes, yes.
Cut is at 45 Park Lane, W1K 1QA. Information: +44-20-7493-4554 or http://www.45parklane.com/cut-at-45-park-lane.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? 100 pounds a head and counting.
Sound level? An obtrusive 75 decibels.
Inside tip? Don’t forget the sauces.
Special feature? Feel the love.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes, yes, yes.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)