The Yard is a defiantly themed restaurant in Hyatt’s new Great Scotland Yard Hotel, an Edwardian red-brick block which once housed the Central Detective Unit of the Metropolitan Police and its constituent darkness. You have to work hard to dispel that kind of horror, and Hyatt tries: the hotel is extraordinarily lush and over-styled, even for these mad days. The lobby, for instance, features a chair that is half rhinoceros but, in dreaming up the rhinoceros chair, Hyatt has invented a piece of furniture only a rhinoceros could appreciate or reach. The sofa opposite has three sequential cushions, which when placed together create a picture of a dachshund, and I can’t imagine anything more pointless.
There is a tea-room called The Parlour which looks like the set of Carry On Up the Khyber; a cocktail bar sprouted from Jay Gatsby’s head called The 40 Elephants (because 39 elephants have nothing like the same impact); a wood-panelled whisky bar behind an invisible door decorated with book spines and operated by button; monumental floristry; artworks by genuine convicts, which is mad; a judge’s wig behind glass; and most of a tree. There is a montage of criminals, all of whom look like Josef Stalin and, at the rear, a restaurant staffed by people in striped silky pyjamas, as if criminals have been isolated and styled.
Of course, I am wrong. The women are in striped silky pyjamas because it is easy to persuade women to wear bedwear in the middle of the day in central London to match a restaurant’s theme. The solitary male, meanwhile, is in a costume I will call Nautical Hitler. It is metaphor gasping toward the very tasteless end of the spectrum — our waiters are enslaved! I do not want to take a Paddington Bear reference hostage in every column I write, but more than a few restaurants now look like Paddington Bear’s prison patisserie of dreams. Perhaps it is evidence of the new fascism rising in Europe; perhaps some people will feel secure sleeping in a hotel with a rhinoceros chair and the energy of a prison; perhaps they will dream of locking up everyone non-compliant — or too poor to commission rhinoceros chairs. How I wish Karl Marx was in the rhinoceros chair or sitting between two-thirds of the dachshund scowling.
It gets wackier. The waitresses in The Yard carry brass knuckle--dusters and they are not ornamental. My grandfather worked — I euphemise — for the Richardson Gang in the 1950s. I know about knuckle-dusters. He taught me to put pennies between my fingers before punching girls at my day school. You can order a non--alcoholic cocktail called Undercover. You can have a meeting in a cell.
The Yard is long and bright, with wooden floors, brown banquettes, exposed brick walls and an open kitchen. It is almost empty, probably because it is Brexit Day, and potential diners can’t move for Union Flags and Liberty Bells shrieking down Whitehall. But it is still vivid, the staff are charming, and the food is superb.
We eat a duck liver parfait, smooth and pliant; an enormous short rib ravioli, the size of a cushion, with smoked cream and wild mushrooms (one for the rhinoceros?); sea bass with Parma ham and ‘crushed’ potato (surely things aren’t that bad?); a wondrous wild mushroom risotto with toasted hazelnuts, the best I have had in many years; a honey crème brûlée with glazed plums and roasted almonds.
If you live by whimsy you die by it, but I liked this mad, clueless hotel. I am very fond of themed restaurants. I keep meaning to visit the Rainforest Café. Perhaps I will take the rhinoceros chair with me.
The Yard, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard, SW1A 2HN, tel: 0207 925 4749.