Joel Antunes was one of London’s culinary stars in the 1990s. Les Saveurs, on Curzon Street, was awarded a Michelin star in 1994 and the French chef then moved to the U.S., winning acclaim for Joel, in Atlanta.
Antunes is now back in Mayfair, after a circuitous journey via the Oak Room in New York and the Westminster Park Plaza in London. His new home is Kitchen Joel Antunes at Embassy Mayfair. It’s a restaurant attached to a nightclub, for better and worse.
It’s an opportunity to try the cooking of a chef -- much respected by his peers -- whose food is accessible and enjoyable. The nature of the club business means the venue is quiet at lunchtimes, so prices are low and you can enjoy a conversation with your companions. You can even see them, too.
At night, things are different. The place is too dark, the music is too loud and the dining room is filled with clubbers. Attractive they are, too, though you may find it difficult to identify them because it’s gloomy and large numbers of waiters stand around, surveying the action and blocking the view.
The menu is as crowd-pleasing as I’m sure the music is downstairs. It’s like in-room dining in a smart hotel. Think of something you might like to eat -- tuna tartare, pasta, steak, risotto -- and it’s there. Antunes has the talent to pull this off. One of the best things I ate last year was his gazpacho.
Talented chefs make simplicity look easy, and Antunes is highly talented.
Sit in the bright dining room at lunchtime -- or outside, where there are tables beside the street -- and you may eat very well. Perhaps start with Salade Nicoise, move on to Coq au Vin (made with star anise) and end with “Le Kit-Kat,” a concoction made of toffee and tonka-bean ice cream. The “introductory” lunch menu is 25 pounds ($40) for two courses and 29 pounds for three. Mayfair doesn’t get much better than that.
Kitchen Joel Antunes also has an ace up its sleeve in the Italian sommelier, Yuri Gualeni. I have rarely come across a wine waiter who is more engaging. I would trust him with my corporate Amex card. In fact, I did. I still have a job.
The evenings are a mixed blessing. The menu is longer, so there’s more choice of dishes, which are individually priced. Kitchen Joel Antunes isn’t outrageous by Mayfair standards: Most starters are 10-15 pounds and mains 20-30 pounds. If you dine early, when it’s still light and clubbers don’t dare venture out, it’s fine. Go late on a Saturday, as I did last week, and there’s more of a buzz, though that was partly in my ears.
Antunes, who was born in Volvic, France, has worked at some of France’s most famous restaurants, including Paul Bocuse and Michel Troisgros. With the right place in London, he might have people waiting weeks for a table. It’s worth crossing London to try his food, but you probably wouldn’t do it twice at Embassy.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 35 pounds for lunch, 55 pounds for dinner, plus wine.
Sound level? Lunch, 70 decibels; dinner, 80 decibels.
Inside tip? Try for a table outside.
Special feature? Modern art, including work by Tracey Emin.
Will I be back? Yes, because I’m a fan of Antunes.
Date place? It’s a nightclub. (So, yes.)
Kitchen Joel Antunes it at Embassy Mayfair, 29 Old Burlington Street, London, W1S 3AN. Information: http://embassymayfair.com/ or +44-20-7494-5660.
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.)