Having heard Theo talk about the ethos of his food over the past few weeks on the show, we can confidently state that his food philosophy centres on using Italy's best ingredients for maximum flavour, but with only a few ingredients on any one plate at any one time - nothing should be over complicated. Balance, seasoning and precise cooking are key. This comes across fully in the menu that brings together all those wonderful Italian ingredients in classic combinations, so our antipasti dishes are Bresaola with wild rocket, pinenuts, Amalfi lemons and Parmigiano Reggiano, and Salumi misti - prosciutto di Parma, schiena, Toscano and fennel salami, capocollo, lardo bruschetta with marinated vegetables "agro dolce". Both are wonderful plates of food, and the quality of what's on the plate is unmistakable.
The same is true of the Primi where a linguine with Dorset blue lobster, tomatoes, parsley and fresh chilli provides an absolutely beautiful lobster with the pasta, though if there's a criticism here, it is that too much sauce on the dish sees it overly dominate the plate making it hard to appreciate just how good the pasta really is. A taglierini with new season's peas, prosciutto, mint and Parmigiano Reggiano is again classic and here, the pasta is so well done and the flavours balanced so nicely, even when you finished, the dish lingers in the mouth reminding you of just how good it is long after it's gone.
As nice as the food is however, the restaurant suffers in our opinion from being in the hotel. From our seat, which is a good seat, we can see the bell boys wheeling luggage through the hotel lobby, there's no windows in the dining room and while the room is smart, it is without character. It's also very big and with only a handful of tables taken, the atmosphere is flat. Taking a cue from the room perhaps, the staff too seemed flat, going through the motions with little enthusiasm. There's few features of interest to distract you either, a narrow window through to the extensive kitchen is something of a token as virtually nothing can be seen and none of the drama of the kitchen (if there is any) spills over to the dining room.
The space allocated to the restaurant seems too large even and with the restaurant already seating well in excess of 100 covers on our estimate, they've given over surplus space to what appears to be a reception area. Presumably there was some event to be held here at dinner because throughout our meal they're rearranging furniture and discussing what tables to put where and what cloths should be laid in what fashion, something usually done between, rather than during, service. It distracts us, and it distracts them and service feels patchy. Also, as if for comic purposes, they made a hash of it.
Service issues feature again when our waiter clears our main courses (veal chop and pigeon) and at the table, scrapes the leftovers between plates as if this were a greasy spoon cafe. We discuss the issues with the restaurant manager resulting in our waiter being visibly irritated with us, simmering hostility. When he delivers a 'selection of desserts to share', he sets it down and walks away. We call him back and ask him what desserts we have on the selection; he struggles to name the four desserts on the plate and then sources a menu so he can read off the description.
Of course, all this is forgivable in the majority of restaurants, but here, you're paying some of the biggest prices in the country to eat. On the main courses, the pigeon is £31, the veal chop £38. The lobster linguine was £23 while antipasti dishes are around the £14 mark. Food with service then will set you back just under £100 a head, and at this price point, for a Park Lane restaurant, the service standard should be impeccable, as it is at Galvin at Windows, or Le Gavroche.
In many ways, there's simply a brand incongruence here it would seem, for on Theo Randall's website he says
I hate formality and pretence. My favourite places to eat in the world are all in Italy... they are brilliant, not simply because they serve delicious food, but because they are fun and relaxed.
But as you enter the InterContinental hotel, passing the Rolls Royces parked outside, fun and relaxed can simply never describe this restaurant in our view. Instead, it's a smart but not fashionable, ultra-expensive restaurant that exactly fits in to its Park Lane surrounds, where the food really is first class, but where the ambiance struggles to rise above hotel lobby and the service gives the impression of simply not knowing better.
Our conclusion is quite simple: Theo Randall's food is undoubtedly excellent but the InterContinental is entirely the wrong situation in which to serve it, in our opinion.