Rydges Hotel, 61 Gloucester Road, London, SW7 4PE, 0207 584 8100,www.rydges.co.uk
Kensington, eh? It’s amazing how one little word can drum up so many associations Ã¢â‚¬â€œ class, sophistication and, to steal the lyrics from a famous Abba song: Money, Money, Money. There’s even a street nicknamed’Billionaire’s Boulevard’ (Kensington Palace Gardens)!
But as well as haunted by the rich and famous – I have to admit I’m far more excited about meeting Dippy, the 26-metre long world’s famous diplodocus at the Natural History Museum than the possibility of bumping into resident Gwyneth Paltrow Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Kensington’s a foodie’s paradise.
It’s home to Launceston Place and Tom Aikens restaurant, both the recent recipients of Michelin stars so the Jam Cupboard, the restaurant at Rydges Hotel situated five minutes’ walk from Gloucester Road, is up against some stiff competition.
But while this restaurant oozes class, sophistication and glamour you won’t find any stuffy, plummy aristocrats here. Instead, celeb guests include ex page 3 model Nicola McLean, WAG’S World presenter Lizzie Cundy and shop-girl turned weather-presenter Sian Welby.
Sadly, I’m sans Mulberry handbag, coiffed hair and footballer boyfriend but within minutes of walking into the Georgian building on its tree-lined avenue, I feel like a celebrity anyway.
I’m standing in a reception decked out like an alcazar with muted gold vases, church candles in silver boxy lanterns and even an antique telescope. Piano music tinkles in the background and a sleek couple dressed in black perch on purple velvet chairs, pore over newspapers and converse in hushed tones. I find myself eavesdropping Ã¢â‚¬â€œ will they give me a hint on how to make my first million
After a multi-million pound refurbishment last December, the Australian-owned hotel chain has jazzed up its restaurant with red and green leather stalls flanking a mirrored bar, and a scarlet, crepe swirly lampshade in one corner. A row of wire figurines in the shape of musicians watches over the diners from behind the bar.
I say diners, but actually the restaurant’s completely empty apart from Salifur, our attentive suited and booted waiter. It feels weird eating in a deserted restaurant, especially when the wall is decorated with a mural of silhouetted diners. Wishful thinking, perhaps?
Salifur assures us it’s a blip and that the restaurant’s usually much busier and bustles about getting us a bottle of wine Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a zesty Australian chardonnay Ã¢â‚¬â€œ while we peruse the menu.
Executive chef Marco Schepft joined the hotel, part of an Australian chain, last August and offers traditional restaurant staples Ã¢â‚¬â€œ fish and chips, mushroom tagliatelle or pan-roasted salmon. I can’t help feeling disappointed, expecting a bit of pizazz to go with the dÃƒÂ©cor. Fish and chips with a popping candy batter or salmon with a seaweed foam and a deconstructed prawn cocktail. Ok, maybe not that wacky, but you get my drift.
I plump for the pan-seared scallops while M chooses grilled asparagus, cured ham and a poached egg. The scallops are perfectly cooked, satiny-smooth and tender, complemented by minty crushed peas. A slick of creamy chervil puree brings the dish together.
M’s starter wouldn’t look out of place in the Saatchi gallery: a fortress of verdant asparagus spears guarding the poached egg with its golden, runny centre and peppered with sprigs of land cress. The rich egg, tang of cured ham and tarragon in the vinaigrette creates a generous jumble of flavours.
Onto the main and M picks the slow cooked beef cheeks Ã¢â‚¬â€œ slabs of rich, winey, meaty deliciousness served on creamy mustard mash. This is a big-hearted bear hug of a meal.
My twice-cooked pork belly is tender with golden, crunchy, crackling served on a rich pulpy mass of beans and shallots with hints of chilli, coriander, tomato, and balanced with a sweet apple veloute.
After a wide selection of starters and mains the array of desserts was a little disappointing. The chef was clearly playing it safe with fruit salad, chocolate mousse or our pick Eton Mess and Sticky Toffee Pud.
You can’t really go wrong with an Eton Mess and this looked a treat Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a creamy mass of meringue studded with strawberries, but it was overpowered by sticky, strawberry syrup. The sticky toffee pud fared better Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a palm-sized soft brown sponge oozing with rich, dark caramel and a dollop of good quality vanilla ice cream. Poetry in motion
The food was hearty and well cooked, but at £8.50 for a starter and around £18 for a main, it might be pennies for the Kensington set, but is on the pricier side for the rest of us. With its extravagant surroundings you’d be forgiven for expecting exotic, unusual food at The Jam Cupboard, but you won’t get it.
Sadly, the originality of the menu won’t be making it into the history books but if you want class, style and impeccable service, The Jam Cupboard’s worth a visit.