It is very, very British at Mews of Mayfair. The location alone should be enough to tip you off to that, tucked down a cobbled alley near New Bond Street. If not then the approach up that alleyway should leave you in no doubt. Lanterns fixed into the archway entrance, a doormat embossed with the restaurant’s crest – do restaurants have crests now? Is that a thing? – exposed brickwork with a hint of crumbling to it: from the outside, at least, it’s one Latin motto and some light sub fusc away from being Oxbridge circa Waugh.
If you don’t get distracted by the lounge bar in the basement or the cocktail bar on the ground floor, it’s a narrow flight of stairs and a dimly-lit archway up into into the brasserie. And there it starts feeling a little less traditional.
The waiters are dressed – mysteriously, but to bizarrely handsome advantage – in what seem to be aprons made from reclaimed burlap sacks; maybe the Mews are more hipster than the frontage hints at. And they urge me towards the Veuve Clicquot – so far, so formal – but with a side of peppered, buttered popcorn. To the horror of champagne purists everywhere. Unlike the whole restaurant-crests question earlier, I’m very clear on this popcorn-Brut holy union: if it’s not a thing, then it should be.
That seems to be the tone for the restaurant in general: half formality, half irreverence. The menu’s no less Very British for that, scattered with descriptors covering the Scottishness of the venison, the Southerness of the mackerel, and all places in between. And the menu’s target demographic is equally broad, bouncing from restrained, macrobiotic-sounding pulses to ricotta dumplings, and seafood-meat pairings.
It’s a slightly erratic range of dishes, but at any given time I’ll have a small but distressingly vocal number of friends who are dieting. I can see the virtues of a place that will let them have mackerel and soft herb quinoa with lemon, while I have the enormous, half-cow sized burger. With lobster. And maybe a side of macaroni cheese. With lobster. The fixation on lobster isn’t mine; it’s the restaurant’s. Lobster features frequently, semi-casually, and often as an optional extra for dishes that I’d never noticed the lack of lobster in before.
The fact that neither I nor my friend order anything involving any degree of lobster probably gives us the impression that we’re ordering with spartan-like austerity. A false impression, as I’m starting with the scallops, which are served with chicken wing, shredded and slow-cooked, crispy chicken skin and haricot beans. It is a tiny masterpiece. It is not austere. The dish arrives looking like a beautiful ice cream, the chicken skin spiking out of the scallops in wafers, so delicate they’re almost translucent.
My friend orders those ricotta and potato dumplings, which are as rich as they sound, though beaten to the title of densest dish we eat that evening by either of our main courses – the Highlands venison served in a thick beetroot reduction, and the seabass in a leek, cream and peanut sauce.
Both of us express a sense of relief that we didn’t order a side of the pasta-cheese-lobster trifecta, which had been debated. Both of us express a feeling of wistfulness towards the dessert menu, without real faith that we can do it justice. We compromise with a chocolate delice to share. And some coffees that would normally keep you up for a week, but after dinner in Mews of Mayfair – and their lobster-strewn brand of decadence – should keep you upright just long enough to get home.
Mews of Mayfair, 10 Lancashire Court, New Bond Street, London W1S 1EY. Tel: 020 7518 9388. Website.