Soutine is the new addition to the Corbin & King group of restaurants – following, in decorative terms, Fischer’s, Brasserie Zedel and Bellanger; a sort of Grand Budapest Hotel-inspired room, clad in mahogany panels.
Versus the other C&K restaurants, Soutine seems showier. Perhaps it is the St. John’s Wood location. A glance at the clientele conveyed a sea of cosmetic surgery, Mulberry handbags and fine jewellery. Men in ostentatious spectacles studied iPhones while women looked in compact mirrors, updating their lipstick as they checked their pout from different angles.
I have to now segue into the serious din at this restaurant. A sprawl of packed tables lays beyond the centre of the restaurant, in the shape of a turning circle. There are, perhaps, thirty tables in the zone described and, as diners competed to be heard, the volume rose and rose. By 9pm, I felt deafened and somewhat oppressed. A starter of chicken liver parfait and Sauternes jelly that had passed my lips happily (good, thick parfait and nectary jelly) at 8.30pm was followed by a main course that I could not taste. My being had been overcome by the ruckus. It had me in mind of the blinded Gloucester in King Lear to whom Edgar comments: “[w]hy, then, your other senses grow imperfect”.
The main course of coq au Riesling, served attractively in iron pot, may as well have been KFC for all the joy I could take from it. Pommes frites were thin, crunchy and très French; petits pois with lardons were watery. I suspect the main was slightly better in reality than in my tainted findings.
A plate of Florentines with a tall, silver jug of black coffee to conclude was something of a highlight. I do like coffee in the self-serve style, from a metal pouring vessel.
Throughout, I was well looked after by different members of the venue’s staff. All were friendly to a fault and genuinely tried to meet the many needs of the diners. I’ve always experienced good service issue at C&K restaurants and, again, the theme persisted.
The pros of Soutine – stained and lacquered wood, decorative mouldings, Orient Express wall lights and a Francophile’s menu – could not see me past the inherent issue of being beaten up by sound waves. Would I return? Probably not. Fischer’s, being more mellow and understated, is to me a better option.
Unless in St. John’s Wood with an urgent need for above average food, there are few reasons to search out Soutine.
60 St. John's Wood High Street
by Cristian Ley