How Deep Is Your Bling?
Arkady Novikov. Russian Big Dog and owner of over forty restaurants in Russia. Two restaurants in one behemoth of a site off Berkeley Square is how he has announced himself with his first opening outside of Russia – he’s not messing around. The Asian restaurant occupies the front of the building, a hefty 130 covers, while the Italian restaurant sprawls behind even larger.
We tried the Asian restaurant where Head Chef Jeff Styler has been installed, carrying solid experience from the Mandarin Oriental group, Roka in London, and a period in Japan honing his sushi and tempura skills.
The room looks like the love child of Hakkasan and Zuma, with a nod to Roka, all melded into one. Shamelessly derivative but not a bad place to start when it comes to restaurant design. Somehow they manage to pull it off without appearing like a a sham imitation with zero class.
A sprawling display of seafood on ice sits in front of an open kitchen in view behind glass, around twenty chefs furiously wokking and chopping – it’s an impressive sight. “Look at our size, ye mighty, and despair”, is the unspoken refrain.
Cutesy baby bok choi are brought out unbidden, served with a couple of punchy palate sharpening chilli sauces – an elegant and measured start.
The menu is intimidatingly large, the kind that leaves you umming and ahhing for an age before a decisive waiter will help you choose by pointing out their favourites. We found service to be unerringly sweet and smiley, particularly our tirelessly enthusiastic Portuguese waiter Tiago, who endured our hesistancy and faffing over the sprawling menu with grace and patience. It’s pricey, there’s no hiding the fact, but hey this is Mayfair and if you feel squeamish about the prices, then you really should have known better.
We start by plundering the dim sum menu, a great place to gauge the quality of a machine like Novikov with such lofty ambition.
Har Gau and Coriander and Shrimp dim sum – Teeny tiny, and probably the most expensive in London at £6 a pop for four pieces. Very decent though.
Foie Gras and Beef Dumpling – Prepared in the ‘Pot Sticker’ style, the edges crimped and fried on one side. Heavy, clunky and no better for playing games with foie – oozing, watery grey matter seeping out of a dumpling somehow ruins the romance.
“New Style Sashimi” – A wow dish. Thin slivers of sea bass perked up with a tricksy little dressing of yuzu and soy – £15. Crab, avocado and cucumber salad sounds plodding, but again the transforming power of yuzu lifts everything, an intense citrussy charge cutting through rich crab and creamy avocado. Bangin’.
Maki Roll of Prawn Tempura and Avocado – These puppies rest on a slick of sticky sweet soy – wonderful. Would never get tiresome – if someone else is paying.
Braised Pork Belly – Lacquered with a spicy sweet and sour glaze, the paupers option on the menu at £12. Wobbly nuggets of pig, always a good thing.
Sushi Platter – Nothing less than sparklingly perfect, buttery textured tuna, salmon and scallop. The usual temptations at a gaff like this are there, Black Cod, Wagyu Beef, Dover Sole, but we swerve these and content ourselves with some juicy spicy barbecued lamb cutlets (£27) and a side of excellently cooked French beans with a pine nut and Szechuan peppercorn sauce. Silken tofu with Enoki mushrooms is a decadent little side order.
Stir-Fried Duck – The only low point, scrag ends of duck looking forlorn, tasting no better than a cheap Chinatown effort– not acceptable at these enthusiastic prices.
The wine list is solid and wide-ranging, put together by Danilo Zilli, and the team is strong – I recognised several sommelier faces from previous London gaffs. Piemonte and Tuscany is particularly extensive. There’s a commendable long list of Franciacorta, the Italian sparkling from Lombardy that is Champagne in all but name. There are Sakes proudly displayed on ice alongside one wall of the kitchen, a tiny detail, but one that hints promisingly that the are giving a genuine ‘fig’ about the drinks offering.
Desserts are a reminder of where the main event is on the menu, and it ain’t the puddings. Green Tea Brûlée comes out with a textural personality problem, thinking it’s a panna cotta, complete with requisite “wobble”. Caramelised Apple is a decent impersonation of the apple on a Tarte Tatin without the pastry and pleasant enough.
As a Flash Harry restaurant it’s perfect, and has the necessary bling factor to pull a few Nobu regulars across the road now and again, including those of questionable reputation. There is a startling botox count inside amongst the laydees, there are lads tables of middle-aged Russians, and the bar at the entrance can barely hide its ‘pick up joint’ aura. Doormen at the entrance with clip-boards are hulkish, intimidating, and short on patience – it’s a genuinely unwelcoming welcome. Front of house inside more than make up for the frosty first exchange.
Out of towners will love the buzz in here on a Friday night, enjoying the bright lights of London as the music volume leaps up every hour and the lights dim, but for Londoners there is simply no reason to spend huge wedges here, rather than at Zuma, Nobu, or Hakkasan – these venues all have that indefinable “sizzle” that keeps them hip, in the clutches of the zeitgeist, and singing a siren’s song to snare the ‘A’ listers.
Novikov won’t hit the high ‘Celeb’ count of London’s most coveted restaurants, but everyone inside won’t care – they’ll be spending far too much money to worry about that.
50a Berkeley Street W1J 8HA