The Yard by Robin Gill, London: ‘Unappealing, ill-conceived, overpriced’ – restaurant review – The Guardian

Restaurant News

The Yard by Robin Gill, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HN (020 7925 4749). Starters £14-£16, mains £26-£30, desserts £9.50, wines from £38

Dangling on a chain from the waitress’s outfits at the Yard by Robin Gill, the restaurant tucked inside the new Great Scotland Yard Hotel just off London’s Whitehall, is a knuckle-duster. We ask to weigh one in our hand. It’s the real thing: a solid piece of brass designed for rupturing skin and fracturing bone in a moment of ultra-violence. It’s a nasty weapon repurposed as an oh-so-witty fashion accessory. I suggest you consider that a symbol for everything that’s wrong about this unappealing, ill-conceived and graspingly overpriced catering operation.

It’s a head-scratcher. The Yard may well be the worst new restaurant from a critically acclaimed chef I have ever reviewed. Robin Gill has been widely praised for the good-value, boisterous cooking at the Dairy and Sorella in Clapham and for Darby’s, a New York-inspired oyster and steak place close to the new American Embassy. I loved his now closed Paradise Garage. And now his name is all over this demonstration of the misguided in three courses. Then again, the restaurant is only described as being under his “guidance”. Perhaps it’s just some consultancy job; an irresistible shake of the big fat money tree, which meant he didn’t argue when someone suggested he charge £26 for a dreary plate of fried dough and cauliflower. We’ll come back to that.

‘Doughy fried gnocchi like dental swabs come with roasted cauliflower florets, £26’: gnocchi with cauliflower.

As the name implies, the Great Scotland Yard Hotel by Hyatt occupies the building that was once the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. Foul crimes were investigated here. Suspects implicated in appalling murders were detained here. A nod to that makes sense, but they’ve gone all in. I find the glass case in the foyer with an antique police truncheon disconcerting; likewise, the poor waiters’ Peaky Blinders-vintage utility-wear “costumes”. You can spot who the most senior staff are. Their trousers are allowed to reach their shoes; the others have to wear them rolled above the ankle.

More troubling is the display of paintings and sculpture by current UK prison inmates, purchased from the charity Koestler Arts, which helps people in the criminal justice system change their lives through art. Rehabilitation through art is obviously laudable. So is the sale of that often-harrowing work. But context is everything. Here they sit, these expressions of isolation, of broken families, emotional trauma and dismal consequence, bang outside the door to a restaurant charging £15 for starters and £30 for mains; where wines start at £38 a bottle. Here, the art doesn’t feel transformative. It feels exploitative. Oh look! How profound. How moving. Now let’s go spaff £75 a head on dinner. Not that I was aware of the cost because unusually, at opening, they hadn’t posted the menu online, perhaps because the pricing is so at odds with everything else Gill has done. Most of the dishes at the Dairy are roughly half the price of those here.

As ever, the money could be justified if it was all “praise be” and “hallelujah”, and there are a couple of dishes that get the nod. There’s a very jolly long-cooked pork jowl, pan-burnished, sticky-glazed and laid under a crisp crumb; a louche version of a Japanese tonkatsu breaded pork cutlet. It’s £28. There’s a clever chocolate mousse in a crisp pastry shell and a lemon custard tart with sticks of meringue and mascarpone ice-cream. Both feel like consolation prizes. Both are £9.50.

‘Cloyingly sweet’: cavatelli with pumpkin sauce and amaretto.

Other things make us joke that the building where crimes were once investigated, is now where they are being committed. Too often the kitchen tries to declare victory through the application of dairy fats. To start we are given a cup of a ludicrously creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup, which they’ve attempted to make interesting via the tiresome punch of truffle oil. It reminds me of the savoury “cappuccinos” that were served in fancy Mayfair restaurants back at the turn of the millennium, and not in a fond way. A sea bass ceviche should be about acidity and sprightliness. Here the thinly sliced fish wallows in a pond of creamy sauce. There is none of the advertised wasabi hit, no citrus punch.

Most infuriating is a £14 bowl of curling cavatelli pasta, on a cloyingly sweet pumpkin sauce with amaretto and underpickled Thai shallots that are more sugar than acid. It’s 2020 and the vegetarian option is: a bowl of bloody pasta. Gill is better than this. Meanwhile, the cream-ballasted sauce around a well-made beef short rib raviolo leaves us reeling from buttery overkill.

It’s the vegetarian main that has me eyeing the knuckle-dusters; don’t blame me, I’m not the one who put weapons in the dining room. It’s a plate of doughy fried gnocchi like those dental swabs inserted between teeth and gum. They come with roasted cauliflower florets, leaves which are less bitter than we’re quickly becoming, and that £26 price tag. It tastes of laziness and gross profit margin. The main courses top out at £30, for two small pieces of monkfish with XO sauce, a condiment that makes me think lunch up the road in Chinatown would be delightful right now. The desserts include a deconstructed tarte tatin. The point of a tarte tatin is the sticky, caramelised edges to the buttery pastry from the roasted apples and sugar. If you serve the pastry separately, it’s just a disc of dry pastry, however clever the undulations you’ve achieved. Stop it.

‘If you serve the pastry separately, it’s just a disc of dry pastry’: tarte tatin.

The bill for three arrives. It’s an asphyxiating £288. I squint at it. They appear to have charged me £75 for a £39 bottle of white Burgundy. I question this. The mistake, it seems, is all mine. When I pointed at the £39 price tag and said “I’ll have a bottle of that” I didn’t clock that £39 was actually for a half-bottle carafe, because I am simple and do not understand the cost of things. Equally, they didn’t point out my error. I say fine, I’ll pay, but they insist on charging me only £39 because of the “confusion”. Obviously, this has nothing to do with who I am. The bill returns and, because this is a hotel restaurant, as well as adding a 12.5% service charge of £27.50, they have left open a space for an extra tip. I decline to pay more – £82.50 each is already taking the piss and my bladder is completely empty. Would somebody mind calling the emergency services?

News bites

For a more successful take on the hotel restaurant, try chef Tristan Welch’s British brasserie at the Parker’s Tavern, inside the University Arms, Cambridge. This is robust, unprissy cooking: it’s fishcakes with lemon butter sauce or truffled duck egg on toast; it’s nut-brown buttered sole with brown shrimps or braised suckling pig with crackling and braised fennel. At the end there’s a Cambridge burnt cream or pink rhubarb and ginger cheesecake. Prices are reasonable and banquettes, accommodating (

Farewell then, to Petit Pois Bistro, in London’s Hoxton Square, which served the best chocolate mousse in town and was much loved. After nearly four years it has closed, though the owners retain the site and say they will be opening something else there soon. Meanwhile Monsieur Le Duck, which went from duck-themed pop-up to permanent, has closed its Clerkenwell site after less than a year. They say they are looking for new premises.

Congratulations to this year’s winner of the best fish and chip shop award in the annual championships, sponsored by Seafish, the public body supporting the UK’s seafood industry. It’s Cod’s Scallop of Wollaton, Nottingham which beat off competition from nine other finalists.

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

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