‘Look, it’s not Kettner’s anymore, all right? Yes I know it’s got the same name but it’s had that name since 1867. So no, you can’t get a bloody American Hot so stop asking, sit down and just look at the new menu.’
Honestly these old Soho types, and I am one of them, do live in the past a bit. Yes we all had fun in the 80’s when we pretty much spent most evenings, and a few lunchtimes that became evenings, in this former adland canteen. Happy days of decanting out of the Champagne Bar at 4pm long before email and mobile phones came along and ended the party (and, as far as I can tell, the creativity too).
So here we are at 1:30pm on a Friday and Kettner’s is pretty empty. It used to be rammed in the good old days, but is anywhere full now? The new Champagne Bar smells a bit of fresh paint and MDF and behind it is a pseudo louche lounge intended to hark back to the days when Oscar Wilde would pop in to spend some time sitting with his hand on Boisie’s knee. It’s a space that probably works better at night but the chairs are cool and actually rather comfortable. Nibbles of red-hot nuts (presumably another reference to dear old Oscar) squeak when you eat them.
The main room I am sure used to have frosted glass windows, but now they are plain glass. The effect is of being in a fishbowl as passers by stare in at us and at the white wood walls and the furniture. The latter reminds me of patio tables and chairs but apparently some well-known interior designer is responsible for all this, I suspect it may be Edina Monsoon.
With a three course menu du jour available for £18.50 it is still an affordable and thus egalitarian place, but we went a la carte to see what’s really cooking here. A Peasant’s salad of duck is distressingly named but has nice chunks of moist duck breast that are still a bit too chilled-cabinet cool but pleasant enough with the mixed salad and a very nice Pringle of roasted salty duck skin. I would like to have seen some gizzards in the mix too, but I suppose peasants can’t be picky. Three well-cooked scallops come on a bed of ‘champagne risotto’ that is properly creamy and al dente but which tastes mainly of Parmesan, and I am not sure texturally the scallops go with rice, but then I am not the one happily eating the dish.
One of the priciest things on the menu is Lobster Shepherds Pie, the name of which causes howls of derision at the table and mental pictures of shepherds and their dogs rounding up lobsters on the moors. It’s fish pie but with lobster for heaven’s sake, what’s a shepherd got to do with it? It isn’t a terribly successful dish; quite small, scalding hot, with piped mash on top as well as a de-shelled claw that I find rather frightening. Inside is some more lobster sure enough, but someone has added cubes of courgette, another ingredient shepherds don’t see too much of, and while it has a pleasing crunchy texture it waters down the sauce. And that’s all you get for your £23.
However the pork belly with calvados caramel apples on a bed of wilted greens goes down well, as does the perfectly char grilled steak with decent crispy chips that aren’t really frites as advertised, not in my book anyway, and a cold béarnaise sauce which causes discussion. Is it supposed to be cold?
We drink house red by the carafe and it’s ok, but nothing to write home about, which is all you can ask for from house red really. The dessert table is a massive girly thing, the table legs should wear high heels, and I have doughnuts with spiced chocolate, crème patisserie and strawberry compote – three plain doughnuts with the sauces in bowls. The spiced chocolate makes me gag, but on the plus side the doughnuts are fresh and light.
So it’s not Kettner’s it’s Kettner’s, an ambitious revamp at a bad time. It has space for the biggest groups, with even more space upstairs in private rooms that have been largely spared Edina’s attentions, and the menu has a bit of something for everyone. No pizzas and no burgers of course, but that’s no reason for the account handler not to bring the creative team here for lunch, even if the shaven-headed twerps we spotted did spend all the time on their Blackberries.
I do rather miss seeing Mel Smith smoking cigars in the Champagne Bar though, maybe they should have him stuffed and brought back? Maybe they should have us all stuffed and brought back? No, you can’t preserve the past you have to move on.