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Gary Rhodes opens a second restaurant, this time in SW1

Please see Readers' Comments January 1999

Gary Rhodes is one of our more inventive media chefs. He was one of the prime movers behind the Modern British culinary revolution of the early ninties. After retaining a Michelin star (a harder task than gaining one, some would argue) at the Castle Hotel Taunton, he burst upon the London scene at The Greenhouse, the Levin brothers' stylish Mayfair restaurant. His TV series and the first of his many books, Rhodes around Britain, helped redefine British cookery and gave us all a new sense of pride in our culinary heritage. His eclectic style and use of new ingredients seemed perfectly in tune with the new cosmopolitan, multicultural Britain that emerged from the post-Thatcher years.

In 1996 he won his own Michelin star at The Greenhouse - sadly not retained after his departure in 1997 to the Catering company Gardner Merchant, who gave him a relatively free hand to set up his own restaurant in the City, appropriately named City Rhodes. Last year he won a Michelin star there as well.

Now, Gardner Merchant have enabled him to launch his first West End venture, with a brand new 90 seater restaurant in Dolphin Square, the luxury apartment and hotel complex on the Pimlico riverbank, opposite the old Battersea power station.

The neo-artdeco style reflects the thirties origins of the building, with plain dark blue carpets and walls, banquettes, chrome railings and modern art. The entrance is through large and rather smart etched glass doors, and the lounge bar area is raised so that diners can make a bit of an entrance as they descend to the main restaurant which is reminiscent of a deck on a pre-war liner. This theme is emphasised by the chrome portholes to the doors.

The menu is classic Rhodes - British ingredients and traditions sometimes, but not always, interspersed with modern twists and exotica. There are starters like ham consommé with pea pancakes (£5.80), or a rich pigeon faggot on a potato cake with mustard cabbage (£8.20). (American diners need not worry, a faggot is an old English style of sausage!). Main dishes include steamed halibut with braised flageolet beans, garlic and tarragon £21.80, or lamb confit with aubergine and tomatoes flavoured with anchovy, £21.50.

The same a la carte menu is on offer both at lunch and at dinner. We went for lunch and chose two fish starters. Classic grand hotel dishes that were all the rage in the seventies are now coming back with nineties revisionist tendencies and attitude. Lobster omelette Thermidor (£9.00) scored ten out of ten for flavour and tenderness of the lobster, but it was neither omelette nor Thermidor, unless your interpretation of either genre is hugely liberal. It was brought to the table in an attractive little pan - sensuously gooey, in texture more like a softly scrambled egg or even a savoury brulée. I was told that this is currently their favourite dish. Maybe Gary's inventiveness might also run to a new name that will secure its place in the gastronomic hall of fame: how about Lobster Rhodeo? - okay, perhaps not!

I stayed on surer ground with one of Gary's signature starters, a fillet of smoked haddock glazed with welsh rarebit on a tomato and chive salad. This is really quite a substantial dish and it occurred to me that at lunchtime there are several starters on the menu that would make satisfying enough second courses with only the addition of one of the side orders of vegetable. My smoked haddock was pure white, none of that vulgar yellow coloured stuff. The rarebit formed a perfect coating; it tasted mustard-and-creamy and had been browned off to perfection. This is a truly "Modern British" dish, where old favourites are executed and presented with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of skill.

For her main course, my colleague opted for an inventive vegetarian dish (£14.50) that combined a good risotto flavoured with spring onions inside a circle of caramelised pastry. Hidden under the innocent looking rice was a soft poached egg on a bed of spinach - a secret oeuf Florentine, no less. The entire construction floated in a luscious beurre blanc with those tiny perfect squares of chopped tarragon. That's clever: imagine bringing all those components together at one and the same time (with no trace of leaking spinach juice), also taking into account the need to serve my seared calves' liver simultaneously. The liver (£19.50) was really well done on the outside but remained very tender inside. The obligatory mash is one of Gary's specialities - much depends on the choice of the right potatoes. I also enjoyed the richly glazed and browned carrots.

Whatever you do, you must leave room for puddings (all at £6.80), because Rhodes and his brigade are magicians in that department. One of Gary's most famous signatures remains on the pudding menu, where his famous bread and butter pudding still reigns supreme. But we tried a "carpaccio" of pineapple which came attractively laid out on one of those super gently curved Japanese style platters. The fine slices were pan seared and in the centre was a tuille basket of pineapple sorbet - the whole thing really was to die for! I tried the stolidly named "British pudding plate", where an updated miniature lemon meringue pie was both lighthearted and inventive with its jaunty gnome's hat topping, and a counterfeit "bourbon biscuit" was refashioned using utterly delicious chocolate fondant. This was a worthy descendent of those tricksy conceits like the famous chocolate capuccino coffee cup complete with its marzipan spoon.

There is a good wine list, as one might expect, guarded as it is by the charming master sommelier Yves Demaries. He has assembled a varied choice of wines by the glass, ideal at lunch. We quaffed a delicate Alsace Pinot Blanc from René Muré at £3.80 a glass, followed by a very pleasant Domaine bottled Marsannay for a fiver. If you like a nice sparkling wine but don't want to pay a small fortune, I recommend their Cremant d'Alsace, also for a fiver a glass.

Cooking and service of this standard and care, in stylish surroundings do not, indeed cannot, come cheaply. So a typical three course meal is going to cost about thirty five pounds not including drinks and all the little bits and pieces. We thought that it might be an idea if there was a set lunch menu which could perhaps be lighter both on the tummy and on the wallet; but these are still early days and I expect the restaurant is busy sussing out its clientele and their preferences.

Since writing this we hear that there is now a set lunch menu, priced at £19.50 for three courses.

Clifford Mould - June 1998 - see

Rhodes in the Square, Dolphin Square, London SW1
Tel: 020 7798 6767
Open for Lunch Sunday to Friday Noon - 2.30pm (closed Saturday)
Dinner: Monday to Saturday 7pm - 11pm; Snnday 7pm - 9.30

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