34 is the new restaurant from Richard Caring, the ‘Lex Luthor of Mayfair’, who owns The Ivy, Le Caprice and Annabel’s. In my research, which I undertake before every review — clams tend not to have a back-story — Caring emerges as a character from a Sidney Sheldon novel, or perhaps Lace: ‘Which of you bitches has my entrée?’ He is unpopular with the WASP establishment because A) he is Jewish and B) he is orange. And so the myths, fuelled by Tatler, float. He survived the 2004 tsunami by sheltering behind an atoll. He has a nuclear silo under the J Sheekey Oyster Bar, which is pointed at Pizza Express. His face is made of diamonds. Etcetera.
Perhaps Caring’s feuding, which is principally with Robin Birley, who would own Annabel’s had his father not sold it to Caring for £90 million, is exhausting him, because his brain fell out and he called this restaurant 34, after its street number. It is a terrible number, although perhaps not as bad as 35. Birley, who is Superman to Caring’s Lex, has also landed from Planet Judith Krantz. He fell out with sister India Jane when he paid a private investigator to spy on her boyfriend and, although the events are apparently unrelated, he has also been mauled by a tiger. So the feud, which has something to do with Caring forbidding Birley to use his own name, has done something to Caring. But I am not sure what. When I have time to visit his underwater city off Sardinia, which is guarded by munchkins riding unicorns, I will ask him.
That is my society reporting done. What is 34 like? It sits on an ironed street off Grosvenor Square. London is very extreme these days; streets are either strangely polished, as if spat out of Richard Curtis’s fantasies, or they are full of pound shops and rioters wearing knitwear. Inside it looks like every other Richard Caring restaurant. Expensive restaurants are going the way of expensive women. They all look the same; to deviate is to fail. If you will allow an Ian McEwan-ism, I have been in this restaurant before. I know that scallop, it hurt me once…
34 is a slender rectangle, lit for maximum shagability, with OK art and tiny tables with tiny lamps on them. It looks like the Nazi Carriage on the Orient Express. It’s not called the Nazi Carriage, obviously, but there is a plaque saying, ‘Leased to the German Army 1942-46’. Maybe it is in memorial, or maybe for some it is a selling point. Anyway, 34, although it smells very new, is obviously from the 1930s, even though few people are nostalgic for the 1930s, and those that are should be sent there by pod. If I were cynical I would say we are living in a cartoon 1930s, as the economy sinks and Weimar Bistros sprout from the Mayfair soil. But I am only a restaurant critic; my opinions are about bread sticks.
The menu? It is sophisticated baby food — watercress soup, caesar salad, Parma ham. I have the caesar salad and it is fine. My companion has the scallops, which are also fine. Then come lamb chops, which are inexplicably breaded, and a Dover sole which collapses, like a political system, on my tongue. The mashed potato, as I never tire of reporting, has no lumps. We Want Lumps is not the greatest political issue of our time, but it is in 34. This place has had its personality removed by tube; you could buy the food at Waitrose for £20 and eat it in darkness in your toilet and feel you had more vibe. Pudding, as ever, brings partial forgiveness — tiny sugared doughnuts, three types of ice cream and two types of sauce. So, inside, there is ice cream and oblivion; outside, the abyss.
34 Restaurant, 34 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 2HD, tel: 020 3350 3434.