I live a stone’s throw from the newly refurbished and re-branded The Imperial and have been watching the transformation over the last few months on my daily commute. It has gone from a pub/bar that had food residencies and an affiliation with The Little Black Gallery, often packed on Chelsea match days, to a sleek overhaul with an über out of reach menu, citing sustainability as its main focus.
The outside looks spectacular. It’s all been painted a minimalistic white, the lighting is dim and cosy and beautiful plants adorn the entrance, giving it an illusion of grandeur. We arrived a little earlier than our reservation and so decided to get a drink at the bar. This was something that proved almost impossible. There are stools all around the curved bar, people eating there already. To the left you are very close to a table, having to apologise for overshadowing someone’s conversation and equally it’s too near the store cupboard and the easiest exit for the barmen. Annoying. To the right it drifts into coffee-making facilities and the main host’s station for the restaurant, so no luck on that front. We ended up having to shout over two people dining at the bar and reach through his empty mussel shell bowl to grab my vodka-soda. A little tiresome and not a good design.
Onto the restaurant. The front was laden with beautiful big wooden tables that were well-lit and garnered a feeling of expense. The tables in the back seemed a little cheap and the walls quite bare – it felt a bit cold. Around the window sills were incredible bouquets of white roses, something that made you feel that people who shop at The White Company dine here, but it baffled me in terms of its focus on sustainability.
To begin with we were given hummus with raw vegetables. A nice touch and a good taste, simple and quite refreshing.
For starters we chose the Salmon Sashimi Salad (salmon sashimi, mouli, avocado, watermelon, soy & ginger) and the Smoked Duck with broccoli, blueberries, chilli & soy. The former looked beautiful; sprinkled with pansy petals the colours were dramatic and bold. There were two pieces of salmon sashimi and two thin slivers of avocado – when this is what had got top billing on the description and considering the size of the dish, one might expect a little more. The flavour was mild, not enough of a kick – sensing they wanted to go for a little Asian fusion, I felt it could have been applied with a little more rigour. The salmon was ok, but didn’t have that buttery melt you get when the fish is just exquisite. The dish’s downfall was the mooli. Whilst I love the taste, it was shaved into long (very long) flat noodle-like pieces. There was way too much of it and it dominated the plate, not in a favourable way. Perhaps shavings, like with parmesan might have been better suited. Needless to say, I didn’t finish the mooli, but I had finished the rest of the dish and the manager showed a great deal of concern at this. She asked, when clearing the dishes, if there was a problem and why I hadn’t finished my dish. As much as I am as bold to say my in-depth reasons in a medium I feel comfortable sharing, perhaps cowardly, it is hard to be put on the spot by the person whose project this is. Feedback during a soft launch could perhaps be obtained in a way that gives them constructive criticism and not in a way that feels like you’re being told off by your teacher at school.
The smoked duck was the best dish of the night. The thin slivers, artistically arranged, were smoky and had an aromatic sweetness to them. The broccoli was crunchy and seasoned lightly but with a twist of the Orient. The real complement was the blueberries. They seemed as though they had been stewed and turned into a compote of sorts. It added the best flavour to the smoke-filled, soft duck. Definitely the firm favourite.
The main courses arrived. We chose the Trout Fillet with Tomato & Chorizo Haricot Beans & Samphire and 8oz Onglette, Tempura Oyster, Banana Shallot, Hand Cut Chips. The trout was a beautiful, pastel coloured dish. It looked well thought out and was presented accordingly. The trout itself was excellent, it had a good taste to it, quite mild but not overdone. Overall it was appealing enough, but still missed flair. The chorizo and beans was a nice thought but the tomato flavour was at the forefront and I couldn’t taste any chorizo which would have been a good kick to the dish, as the rest was all such mild flavours. The samphire was delicious and buttery and gave a good dose of green to the dish. For a plate with such a mix of ingredients and high-end ones at that, I think, although good, it wasn’t out of this world.
The onglette was slightly dreaded. After our mild telling off we had been asked what we’d ordered for the mains and the manager said that the onglette was too strong for her and it wasn’t her favourite. Uh-oh, that doesn’t bode well…it arrived. A huge portion of a very unattractive looking cut of steak, chopped into several logs accompanied by a deep-fried oyster on top was placed down. The steak was exceedingly strong and considering the look, it gave you a nauseous feeling after a while. The oyster’s batter tasted as though it had been sitting, sweating at the bottom of a pint filled with beer. This was beer battered like something else. In a word…foul. The banana shallot is an acquired taste, that’s for sure, not one I think I will try again, with a beyond mushy consistency it doesn’t add anything to an already unappealing dish. The hand cut chips were of course good, come on, if they’d been bad I think there would be a much bigger problem.
After a wait of just over twenty minutes for our mains to be cleared they finally were, slightly relieved that the quietest waitress had taken them away, so we didn’t have to endure another telling off, the manager then walked over saying that the waitress had just informed her that the onglette hadn’t been finished and again asked if there was some kind of problem. I felt like I was on trial. I was polite, I’m English after all, but being cornered in a place that I can’t escape from, knowing they are the ones serving my food really is not the best forum to highlight the downfalls of the place.
A sucker for punishment we ordered dessert. This was an orange and rosemary bread and butter pudding. It looked appetising enough but consistency wise it was stodgy and had the texture of something undercooked. I couldn’t taste the rosemary, thankfully, but the tart of the orange was not complemented in any way by the creme fraiche, as that was also a little sour. The cream needed to smooth out the tartness and it should have been a light vanilla cream or a cinnamon mascarpone. The dish just wasn’t good in terms of taste and texture.
We asked for the bill from the main waitress who had a very lacklustre attitude and around fifteen minutes later she came over and said ‘Have you got your bill yet?’ I simply said ‘No,’ when in my mind I was saying ‘Well, think about it, we asked you for the bill and you haven’t brought it over, so unless a carrier pigeon has flown over, no, it has not magically appeared here.’ A further five minutes passed and finally it arrived. Needless to say I did not leave a tip as the service left a lot to be desired on all fronts. Training hasn’t evidently been a strong part of the opening.
Overall I felt it was food that sounded all decadent and eloquent but actually it was just a disappointment. It felt like a place for an older generation with slightly dated food and the more modern food not being carried off well enough. They continue with their soft launch providing 50% off all food at lunch and dinner until December 1st if you want to try it for yourself.
577 Kings Road, London, SW6 2EH
+44 20 7736 6081