Brasserie Joel, Park Plaza Hotel, Westminster Bridge Rd, SE1


Even the most ardent North London cabbie could not complain about going “Souf of the water” to get to Brasserie Joel, situated on the roundabout on the south side of Westminster Bridge. This was once the Island Block, the annex to County Hall, and seat of the Greater London Council. Mercifully, it’s hard to see its dreary open plan, hessian divided history now.

There’s good and bad about having your restaurant located within a big hotel chain. On the plus side, there’s usually a constant supply of guests who can afford to eat with you, and plenty of symbiotic marketing; on the bad side, you have usually to toe the hotel line on style and suppliers. Park Plaza must have felt they had done all the hard work luring people onto the premises, because the budget for the room needs a tweak.

Getting to a venue early is never good for atmosphere, so forgive me for being a little picky, but one little succulent in a tiny pot by way of table flowers for a restaurant of this calibre? Plain tables, no linen or charger plates, and so many dark colours make this a tough canvas for executive head chef Walter Ishizuka to paint beautiful.

There’s no coat check, and we pick a table near the middle of the room. The service is relaxed, but we are soon sorted out with water and good breads, and choose the recommended Tuna Tartare and the octopus. First up, an amuse bouche of scallop, chorizo, Pak Choi, and Lobster Bisque. It’s at this point the whole experience improves radically. It’s a salty mix, but with real substance and punchy flavours that speaks of good things to come.

And so it was. The tuna with Japanese dressing and red amaranth is absolutely delicious, the sweet, fruity vinegar chasing the flavour of the tuna and avocado round in your mouth in the most entrancing way. The octopus dish, with its gelatinous flesh being offset by the piquancy of balsamic seems merely competent rather than show-stopping, but I enjoyed it all.

On to the mains, a Truffle Salsa Tagliatelle with Lotus Root crisps, cubes of squash, and a scattering of Datterini tomatoes for Madame; and the Roasted Wood Pigeon with spiced butternut squash puree and toasted hazelnuts for me. There’s a brief entry in my notes here, a pause to approve of the Cote du Rhone Ogier`s suitability, a “pigeon is perfect” and “Mmmm!” for the Tagliatelle. I think I even started to forgive the aural wallpaper than passes for music at this point.

A new waitress comes over to offer desserts, and I, at least, think there’s space. It’s a funny thing how ‘deconstructed’ has come to be accepted. Do we really think someone has built something, then decided “hey, let’s un-build it!“ has a marketing edge? For £8.50 you can get a Tart Tatin in kit form, which won’t please the purists, but did please me.

Food of this quality is not cheap, but its ability to transcend its setting speaks volumes.

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