ONE allows restaurateurs a much greiter leeway for vulgarity than
one would ordin- ary people. Even the simplest restaurant decor would look over the top in some- one's house. But I think I can safely say that I've come across what must be one of the vulgarest restaurants in town (I dis- count the numberless courtesan's bedroom affairs all over the place, which I regard, in the main, as innocent ostentation).
The newly relaunched and refurbished Dolphin Brasserie in Dolphin Square, SW1, (828 3207) is quite an eyeful. It always had potential in that line — the restaurant overlooks the Dolphin Square pool and much has always been made of this by its designers and decorators. Now, Glynn Boyd Harte has turned it into a luxury liner, lurid horizons and coloured lights thrown in. I have a weakness for kitsch so quite like it, but I think having `sitting pretty' emblazoned on the loo-roll holders in the ladies is pushing the point a bit far.
The jolly cruise motif obviously cuts no ice with the chef, whose menu is untouched by what the proprietors call 'such playful treatment'. More's the pity really. I would want whatever the supposedly up-market version of Captain Bird's Eye might be, but the rotund pretension of the menu is a bit hard to take, especially when peppered with errors (`nos legumes de saison ou salades son servi avec le plat pincipal' etc). Starters, average price £4, are probably the menu's greatest attractions, but then, I often find that. Their fresh noodles with crayfish and pine kernels in a port sauce was exceptional, though murky looking, and the seafood motisse with a julienne of vegetables and a spiced sauce would have been very good if it had been taken out of the fridge earlier. Among other starters were a delicious-sounding beef consommé with bone marrow, strips of capon and dumplings; pancakes with Bresse chicken, shallots and truffle juice; and salmon trout prepared like gravlax and with a seasonal salad.
Main courses (only one under £10) follow a fashionable pattern — and with rather too many components. What they call cassoulet de St Jacques — scallops with broad beans and tomatoes in a pleasantly sharp, winy sauce — was good, though unremarkable. The same has to be said of their aiguillettes d'agneau — slices of lamb with puff pastry, aniseed and garlic ravioli and a thyme sauce. I feel somehow that a seriously good chef would not plonk puff pastry and pasta together. I didn't particu- larly like the sound of the fillet of turbot with citrus fruits, herbs and a sweet and sour vinaigrette; though if I hadn't had the noodles I'd have willingly chosen the dover sole, steamed and served with a crayfish, leek and butter sauce. For meat eaters there's fillets of beef with wild mint and mushrooms; escalope of veal stuffed with artichokes and basil and in a rosemary sauce; or a loin of venison with cranberries and juniper and a creamed game sauce.
There is a good cheeseboard — French and Scottish — grilled goat's cheese with salad and an impressive list of puddings. I can't, however, see many people managing much of it — the three-chocolate terrine or profiteroles for example — but the miroir au cassis et son coulis, a sort of mousse flan with glaze, was quite as it should be: light and refreshing. The hot orange and bitter chocolate soufflé was, sadly, on the spongy side, though the sabayon sauce was in- spired.
The wine is idiosyncratic: half reason- able, half exorbitant. House wines are all good, and under £7, and I had a delicious Californian Cabernet Sauvignon (always expensive) at £12.50. If you're feeling adventurous, try the Australian dessert wine (Pewsey Vale Botrytis Affected Rhine Riesling, £8.20 for a half-bottle) with pudding. It doesn't have the ambro- sial sweetness of sauternes, but a distinc- tive herbiness.
I think that the new owners have made a mistake here. The restaurant's selling point obviously isn't meant to be the food, and the expensive menu (my dinner came to £77 for two) is inappropriate. There is a set menu, which I'm told is far more reliable than the a la carte, and I feel they would be wiser to have three set menus, ranging from, say, £11 to £15, much as they used to when it was the Restaurant. Since the brasserie isn't visible from the street they need to work to build up a solid reputation.
I think, furthermore, that charging an extra £1.50 a head on Friday and Saturday evenings when there's live music (for danc- ing) is an abominable cheek. But the place has got potential and a bizarre charm.