Gary Rhodes and Nigel Kennedy; you never see them together. That’s because they are one and the same. My reasoning for this outlandish tabloidesque statement, aside from their remarkably similar appearance, is that it would be difficult to publicise yourself as a violin-playing-celebrity-chef with both Michelin stars and a BRIT award to your name; nobody likes a show off. So Gary Kennedy – or is it Nigel Rhodes – must take on an alter-ego of sorts to represent the other half of his multitalented self. A bit like Jekyll and Hyde, except one is a violin virtuoso and the other is a skilful chef. You heard it here first. [Larry’s Note to Editor: Jonesy, this is The Arbuturian, not The Mirror. You are tarnishing our reputation with this foolish hyperbole!]
Rhodes W1 – Gary’s West End outpost – ticks all the boxes of our lunching requirements; it has a Michelin star, it offers a reasonably priced set-lunch menu (£25.95 for three courses) and they serve Rhodes’ trademark British cuisine with a modern ‘haute cuisine’ twist; just the spot then for our seasonal feast.
An imposing door greeted me at the corner of Cumberland Place and by the Power of Greyskull I heaved the thing open. Once inside, I was cosseted by the dark and luscious interior and wondered if I had mistakenly walked into a private casino; crystal chandeliers, tactile wallpaper, a soft carpet and well spaced tables, all the hallmarks of a Michelin-approved venue, or a Las Vegas nightclub.
In place of windows in this Kelly Hoppen-designed restaurant were a variety of large mirrors upon the walls. I had a fleeting image of Gary facing his reflection and asking, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror replying, “Today Gary, it is Nigel.”
Stirling and I both started with the tartare of organic salmon that arrived in an oversized bowl, the little tartare topped with a soft boiled quail’s egg that was mounted with a dollop of caviar, the lot surrounded by a moat of smoked salmon bisque poured from a separate jug. It was a light and refreshing dish, yet managed to be suitably rich, warming and unctuous.
Mains arrived and again Stirling and I had both wandered down the same trail of culinary exploration; a roast fillet of Lincolnshire pork and confit belly, with a black pudding and apple tower and a smearing of mashed potato. The pork fillet was probably the best hunk of pork I have ever eaten, so soft that I could have cut it with aeroplane cutlery. The black pudding and apple construction was a classic but scrumptious combination, and my only criticism is the lack of mashed potato, in this case an artful daub.
Lawrence, never the conformist, opted for the fish; a roast fillet of dorade on a soft herb risotto with clams and a mild curried emulsion. Having fretted over the merits of the curried emulsion while ordering, he reported the food to be quite delectable and the spiced mixture so well balanced that it lifted the dish to an entirely new level. Well done Nigel. I mean Gary.
To accompany all of this, Larry chose a red from the Languedoc – a Saint Chinian to be precise – surprisingly robust and tannic for a Languedoc, it was a most drinkable potion and reasonably priced too.
Onwards to the desserts – a banoffee pie for Stirling and I – and the cheese trolley for Larry with an £8 supplement. The banoffee pie was a Rhodes classic; Gary has a tendency to recreate traditional British desserts that match, to the letter, the flavour of the original. I have sampled this play on classics before at Rhodes South when I tried their retro homage to the jaffa cake. The banoffee pie was another case in point; it was essentially a mousse that tasted exactly like a banoffee pie. Nothing wrong with that, it was delicious.
Larry, meanwhile, was breaking out in sweats over the mountain of cheeses before him; a selection of five from the well-stocked trolley that included a Mont d’Or, a Pont-l’Évêque and a Morbier. With the cheese came biscuits and three chutneys, the most notable being the truffle and honey, but memorable because it was a jarring mixture of flavours that didn’t suit one another; one of the less successful concoctions from Gary’s laboratory.
The bill was presented in a black envelope marked ‘The Damage’, embossed in silver gothic type; a nice touch. Service was as smooth, attentive and polite as one would expect in such an establishment, and towards the end of our meal I noticed some background music. Violin, if I’m not mistaken. Somewhere in a dark corner, Gary had sipped on his potion and transformed himself into Nigel Kennedy again. What would The Mirror make of that?
Rhodes W1 Restaurant, 7-9 Great Cumberland Place, London W1H 7LU. Tel: 020 7479 3895. Website: www.rhodesw1.com
Summary: An excellent restaurant, a great value set-lunch, modern British cuisine in luscious boudoir surrounds.