New restaurant critic David G. Lennox reviews Brompton Cross’s latest opening, Caramel London
In a knockout punch, the last of the grand old chatelaines of Kensington and the dowagers of Chelsea – not to mention their urbane nephews, in euro tweed and gossiping nieces, donning sunglasses to disguise their latest Bystander appearance – have been blown away.
The space formerly occupied by Brompton Cross’s La Brasserie has been reincarnated and pimped up to proportions that would leave corrupt dictators grinning and wealthy divorcees wincing through their plastic surgery; before prowling upon their next victim in their under length but overshined dresses in what can only be described as seduction booths which make up one rear side of the restaurant.
La Brasserie was the ideal place to break up a ‘walk of shame’ (or ‘stride of pride’) with a solo breakfast or worse still as the dumping point after a Raffles or 151 conquest – the orange juice was always top drawer and the necessity to talk minimalised by abrupt staff. But it would go on all day – coffee and a stale croissant – steak frites – an absurdly good value happy hour in the hope of meeting an evening beauty, and if not, some perfectly passable coq au vin or a veal Holstein and pomme puree and more drinks. It attracted characters, observers, faded beauties complaining at the noise not to mention the unlikely spot for an attempted hit on Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal – who was rumoured to be living incognito around the corner. The unpublishable stories are rife.
‘La Bras’ (as it was fondly known to those in the know) was a diary of Royal Borough life which always entertained and the food had a reliability which only regulars could fully comprehend. It sort of did what it said on the tin – but there was no tin. If it were in Paris, it would have been vilified. At Brompton Cross, it sort of worked.
Now patrolling this wonderful piece of no man’s land, which among about four things it could be (Chelsea, South Kensington, Brompton Cross, Brompton), we have Caramel London.
The room is black with a glass ceiling that promises to yield poles if only glass were magically removed at a certain hour. There is an anticipation whilst sitting down that a show is about to begin and that something rather adult in the most childish possible sense is about to ensue. This is lunchtime and I feel like I am in a Miami Beach nightclub which doesn’t get going until about 3am.
Bathetically, the waiter then entices us to have a cocktail. This no anti-climax – these are magnificent – the Negroni has a huge cube of ice in its tumbler and the vodka martini has a lovely balance where the droplets of vermouth take out the fumes of the spirit, also in a very good glass – the liquid is chilled naturally and is utterly smooth and delicious. Indeed, these are cocktails of the class you may expect at The Connaught or top-end hotel bars in London and anything you can find in Chelsea, or wherever we are.
Then came offerings defined as “shared for the table” – I hate this sort of language – the plates are never too big for one – you might want a really nice plate of acorn fed Iberico ham for instance – but this seems an excuse to introduce a pre-starter course or get nice people to spend extra money because they like the idea of “sharing.”
However, all was forgiven when a missile like double pyramid of prawns appeared in a big gold martini glass – TNT shrimp – they were well and truly off the charts and plentiful, glued together with a hot mayonnaise that was zingy enough to patent. It sounds completely and utterly repulsive but somehow it worked magically. Pure ‘prawnography.’ The prawns had a more swallowable give and tenderness when compared with those bouncy muscular shrimp that contaminate the States. The fact they were totally impractical to eat merely added to the absurdly glorious idea of what this space had transformed itself into. This was a knockout punch which may just bring a few of the old souls back to life from some of their pre-mausoleums upstairs or around the corner.
We then were given some really good beef sliders in a soft homemade brioche type bap that was excellent, some well-judged Chilean sea bass on a rather over creamy un-Italian risotto, with a nice enough lobster broth – the dish was ruined by some over-extracted tomato salsa paste concoction that went with absolutely nothing. And then a short rib pappardelle which had a deep and unctuous sauce but the pasta a bit thick, cardboardy and gluey and an unnecessary pimping up with black truffles that could not be tasted against such depth of flavour. Again, a thoroughly un-Italian pasta dish.
The Nutella gnocchi we had for pudding put us back on course. They were excellent oozing out chocolatiness.
The cooking at Caramel is actually promising, but I suspect the chef has been made add some culinary plastic surgery like truffles and lobster to get the perfect fit for the likely clientele. Though only time will tell what that clientele is, I will be happy to drink the cocktails and pad out on the prawns whilst it attempts to resolve its confusions.
Caramel London, 272 Brompton Road, London, SW3 2AW. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7589 0221.