Richard Caring’s new London steak restaurant, 34, looks like it has been around forever, or at least since the 1930s. It’s a classic.
This latest venue from Caprice Holdings -- owners of J Sheekey, Le Caprice, Scott’s, the Ivy and other fine establishments -- is gorgeous: Art Deco in style and beautifully lit. It’s already a celebrity hangout. Formula 1’s Bernie Ecclestone was at the next table the first time I ate there.
So there are many positive points about 34. There is one rather large negative: the steaks. It’s not that they are bad. I’d have been happy if served them in London a decade ago. The problem is that other restaurants have got so much better. In an interview with Restaurant magazine, Caring dismissed the competition and said he didn’t know the names of some rivals.
Let me help him. Hawksmoor raised the bar when it opened in Spitalfields in 2006. Jason Atherton followed with Maze Grill in 2008, the year Mark Hix opened his own restaurant at Smithfield serving great meat. Goodman arrived a few months later and my current favorite -- CUT by Wolfgang Puck -- arrived last year.
The steaks in all of the above are outstanding. London hasn’t looked back, until now. That’s my beef.
Other than that, 34 is great. I’ve been four times and I’ve eaten well. The Cornish fish soup with saffron mayonnaise is rich and generous, the foie gras and garlic tortelloni surprisingly light for so much flavor. The shrimp cocktail is superb: huge meaty shrimps with a bowl of the finest sauce.
The fries are crisp and the onion rings crunchy. There are meatballs with spaghetti and you have the option of foie gras and truffle with your burger, which costs 25.50 pounds ($39) with those bells and whistles, or 16.50 pounds with Mayfield cheese and dill relish.
Desserts include a Fleur de Sel chocolate & mint bombe, which correctly imploded on addition of hot chocolate, and only after a few seconds, which was tantalizing. The sloe gin fizz jelly with Amalfi lemon sorbet is my first choice, though there is also the pineapple carpaccio with passion-fruit sorbet.
(Hix put sloe-gin jelly and thinly sliced pineapple on the menu when he created the current incarnation of Scott’s in 2006, while he was chef-director at Caprice Holdings. He was succeeded by Tim Hughes and it was heartening to see Hughes hard at work in the open kitchen of 34 soon after it opened.)
And so, reluctantly, back to the steaks. The choice includes free-range grass-fed from Argentina, U.S. prime Creekstone Farm and Scottish dry-aged grass-fed. The New York strip (38 pounds) was the weakest link among those I tried and the Scottish rib-eye (33 pounds) the best, but these things are relative. When it comes to steak, this isn’t the Premier League.
I like 34 and I’ll go back. The dining room (designed by Martin Brudnizki) is so elegant, it’s like a magnet. The service is better than I’ve experienced at other Caring restaurants. The range of wines available by the carafe means you have more choice than many of us might be able to afford in Mayfair.
But I don’t think the opening of 34 in the neighborhood is going to make it any easier to get a table at CUT or Goodman. They set the gold standard for steak in Mayfair.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? It’s very easy to spend 100 pounds a head.
Sound level? 80 decibels at the quieter end of the room.
Inside tip? Ask to be seated away from the live music.
Special feature? Live music.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes, especially if you are dating a celebrity.
34 is at 34 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 2HD. Information: +44-20-3350-3434 or http://www.34-restaurant.co.uk/.
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.)