I get really excited when a restaurant says it is going to embrace a more casual dining concept. Having written at length about the panoply of London’s dining out options, it seems like when one of these posh venues shrugs off the oppressive yoke of fine dining it validates this writer’s vision of a more democratic food scene in the capital. To lend further credence to my point is that this particular restaurant is a Roux joint; the closest Britain has to culinary royalty. They have decided that The Landau should no longer be regarded as an overflow room for Le Gavroche but a destination in its own right.
On the quieter end of Regent Street, The Landau is situated in the Langham Hotel across the street from the headquarters of the BBC. When you enter the restaurant from its designated entrance you realise it shares a lobby with Artesian Bar, which at some point topped the World’s Most Overrated Bars list and is the only bar in the hotel. It also means that there is no decent place to have a pre-dinner cocktail. The name itself is a curiosity; why would anyone name a restaurant after an archaic German horse-drawn carriage? When we walked in, the receptionist confused me with my dining companion and addressed me as Mr Smith throughout dinner. In hindsight, I probably should have called him Neo or Mr Anderson.
This is a restaurant where a jacket is optional but knowledge of lip-reading is a must
The main dining room is a beautiful, high-ceilinged, oak-panelled and parquet-floored ballroom which has lighting dim enough to put one at ease but bright enough to still see your food. Unfortunately, it is also circular. Anyone with at least a middling understanding of acoustics will tell you that this is a wonderfully terrible idea. I could hear a dozen conversations from across the room but it was impossible to make out what my companion was saying from two feet away. This is a restaurant where a jacket is optional but knowledge of lip-reading is a must.
Keeping with the casual market atmosphere, the menu is printed on cardstock and kept to a single page. Our waiter (more about him later) was especially keen in recommending the five-course tasting menu. This £65 option included a snack platter, starter, main course and two desserts. Given the choice of beef or turbot, he was adamant that we have the beef, which would be “simply amazing”. With that out of the way we perused the wine list, with prices that only made sense if they were in Danish krone. Our sommelier seemed sheepishly conscious that the restaurant was ripping us off – a bit of self-awareness showing there – but was ultimately knowledgeable and helpful. He served us a decent Albert Bichot Cote de Beaune, albeit a younger vintage than the one on the list.
The snacks soon arrived: Prosciutto from San Daniele on an olive-stuffed cracker, gougères and crab salad. The first two were pretty decent if not unremarkable; gougères are so commonplace in London restaurants now they no longer matter. The plating of the crab salad was a bit perplexing, however. Too small a portion to be served individually, both our crab salads were placed in one small bowl with no serving spoon. Our waiter kindly volunteered to split that in two for us, making the Rube Goldberg plating solution even more perplexing. Oh yes, our waiter. While he was friendly, he seemed to have learnt how to be friendly on YouTube, and was rather keen to try it out for the first time. When he served the gyoza, or pan-fried dumplings, he winked cheekily as if he stole the chef’s precious stash of appetisers. While some may enjoy the eerily attentive service, I doubt I am wrong in saying that a confident server can lay off a bit; take a step back and relax!
Thankfully the highly recommended beef fillet with foie gras and sauce Royale was the star of the meal. Beef farmed on the Duke of Buccleuch’s lands in Scotland has a rich, Stilton-esque flavour and earthy undertones so much so it could hold its own against the pan-fried foie gras. The accompanying pomme puree was smooth and simply divine. And these were potatoes that had to be good, as Michel Roux was fired from the BBC for endorsing them. Way to stick it to the wonks at Broadcasting House across the street. Two competent desserts came thereafter to complete the meal, a Chouquette with rhubarb sorbet and a moelleux with cardamom ice cream and caramel sauce.
I’m not quite sure the Landau team understand what casual dining is about
I don’t know how to feel about Roux at the Landau. The food was good, and that is all I can call it – nothing spectacular. Perhaps that is the point of the whole place, somewhere you just go out for dinner without a thought. But in this economic climate where everyone seems to be opening a restaurant and choices are aplenty, the Landau is sorely missing a USP. And at £125 a person if you scrape the bottom of the wine list you pay through the nose for an experience catering to someone in the top tax bracket who wants to pretend to be ‘one of us’. I’m not quite sure the Landau team understand what casual dining is about – good food one could wolf down in a relaxed environment while holding a conversation without the need to shout. Koffmann’s at the Berkeley, which closed at the end of 2016, got that right to a T. Roux at the Landau just leaves me as cold as their hardwood floors.
1C Portland Place
by J Khou