Clean plates & dirty minds in Mayfair
Tall Stories: Hunting for the perfect Chinese Restaurant in London
Tall Stories: Hunting for the perfect Chinese Restaurant in London
Restaurant Review - Park Chinois, Mayfair
There is something about hearing the whisper of Asian Cuisine that pushes all will power to one side. The thought of sizzling sticky ribs, enchanting smells of crackling foreign spices, excessively crispy duck pancakes and that bubbling sweet n sour sauce always sets me into a hot frenzy. We all have our favourite dishes, long standing family friendly order combinations passed down from generation to generation, and of course the war-like treaties over how to divvy up the left overs. ‘Going for a Chinese’ is a ritual in my family and we all long to find the perfect Chinese restaurant.
Park Chinois had been on our list for a while. Just a skip from Berkeley Square a mysterious floral entrance hides the dark red and gold of the building which gives a nod to their Chinese heritage but to me looks like a secret futuristic dystopian bar you would find in a Harrison Ford remake.
In contrast from the photos found online you would think you were stepping into a scene from The Great Gatsby. Art Deco moments and silvered mirrors surround the wide eyed guests. Proud white gloved staff in expensive suits serve trays of glossy glazed treats with impeccable style. The website sells you the dream of a bygone era. A champagne clinking experience of hedonism, limitless expenses and a world of no hangovers. All you can see as you scroll through each page is utter glamour.
Image from @parkchinois on instagra
You are sold the fantasy that you are on the train to Shanghai, chugging along the mountain ranges being carefully served afternoon tea in a shaky leather bound carriage. Huffing at the heat, puffing on your cigarette as you gruff past the latest trade reports in your four piece suit. Live entertainment, fantastic food and an evening in Mayfair seduce you into believing that this restaurant could very well be the new favourite.
Image from parkchinois.c
The super-hero-huge doorman ripped straight out of Vogue Italia immediately pops my Art Deco daydream. Standing on the door of Park Chinois the in-house security set the sordid tone f your evening’s entertainment. Like a scene out of The Sopranos or a budget Lock Stock they stand strong giving slightly menacing yet chiselled looks. The welcome is dark, understated and reserved. Not quite the jolly energy of our local Chinese.
Once inside there are women dressed so garishly and tightly wrapped it is uncomfortable to watch as they precariously totter behind their Desperate Dan partners. Loud mouthed men with tattooed hands, flashy gold watches and dazzling Arctic teeth litter the bar fighting for space. I’ve never seen so many protein abusers in one room.
I am surprised to see over proof tear inducing cocktails carelessly poured in the darkness but there are no complaints. Why would anyone care when the end game is to be lost in a sea of alcohol by the end of the date. And then it dawned on me that most of the people are not here for the food. They are here to be seen, take a few pouting photos and post it online for their followers to fawn over.
The restaurant itself is a treat. Deep red velvet and silk booths line the walls. Large polished oval tables with dark curtains that flow over and around give the illusion of seduction and secrecy. Immediately you feel you could literally get away with murder in this room. Dark deeds in darker corners happen here. The restaurant itself is dimly lit with candles surrounding the room giving bursts of romantic light building a dark allusive atmosphere not far off a film noir scene waiting to happen.
Characters creep in and out of the shadows as if on stage. A woman with lips so plumped they create their own shadow, another dressed like a schoolgirl right down to the frilly socks sitting with a man dressed as a strict headmaster, and a reality show winner obviously hiding in plain sight on a bad date. You could as easily dine out on the gossip as well as the food. In the bedazzled entrance to the basement I stumble across a herd of seal clapping club kids who could easily have fallen out of a teen magazine shoot. Each one is as stunning as the next and try to rope me into their mayhem. Upon reflection whilst they are all uber cool and trending, this particular evening I have no desire to join in the fun so I make my way back to the table.
Photo of mysterious diner and author
The food finally arrives in staccato - a plate of oil slicked ribs swimming in their own fatty sauce, the duck arrives with neither pomp nor ceremony with a salty thump as if it has been shot out of the sky. The prawns are all suspiciously identical - too similar in fact to avoid the from frozen label. But there is some good news- the Dim Sum is truly fantastic. Summer truffle , cuttlefish and scampi shumai are all delicious and honestly we just have to order more. We are starting to believe the chef actually does know what he’s doing.....
image from lightiq.com
The staff do more table touching than talking and all too quickly whip away our plates not giving enough time to the whole customer experience and who can blame them? There is no love in the room just lust as most of the crowd are here to either get laid or paid. Part of the Berkeley Square bubbling bravado on show on any given Friday night.
The soul of a restaurant comes from the food. The success of the site is a symphony of moving parts manned by the multiple characters of a relentless unforgiving daily show and this soul sadly has been sold by Park Chinois.
This is no China Tang or Hakkasan. This is the poster boy for fast paced casual dining space designed for the Instagram generation. This is the dawn of the reality show ‘meet and greet’ restaurant. Who wins, you decide.
With step and repeat opportunities in every corner and plate ware glossily embossed the whole concept has been thoroughly thought out to follow trends and attract the flighty and the fickle. And for that the owners should be applauded. Ensuring your restaurant is instagramable is now an absolute necessity. Apparently. But some operators take it way too far, forgetting the pillars and heart of what makes a good restaurant great.
image from parkchinois.co
Park Chinois is at the top of its game in this brave new world. The league in which they roam - STK, W Hotel, and Hard Rock to name just three put them in good company. So if you don’t mind eating better than average but instantly forgettable Chinese food and relish an evening of entertaining stories and glorious theatre then this is an Asian adventure you should definitely explore at least once. It will be an experience you will find hard not to enjoy.
Park Chinois, 17 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, London W1J 8EA