Tanya Gold

‘The chocolate soufflé is too good for people’: Pavyllon at the Four Seasons Hotel, reviewed

(Four Seasons)

One in, one out, as Rick says in Casablanca. Le Gavroche, which was the first restaurant in Britain to win three Michelin stars – and this was before Michelin stars indicated poor mental health in gifted chefs – closes in January, which is serious news in the land of London restaurants: a kind of Congress of Vienna with Michel Roux bowing out with the blood of infinite chickens on his knife. I don’t love Le Gavroche the way other critics do but I admire it, even if it means ‘urchin’, which is not witty when you consider its prices. There was a scandal involving staff’s tips going to management – an ongoing obscenity, though this one was resolved – and I also think that if you desire French food you could just go to France. It’s not far, at least in miles.

There is a Pavyllon in Paris, and Alléno brought 70 staff to London, like a travelling circus

You could also go to Pavyllon. French food can be irritating because it considers itself a pinnacle. It isn’t, of course. Food is subjective – I won’t go on about haute-cuisine crème eggs (I found them somewhere on the Aldwych long ago) just now. But it can be spectacular.

Pavyllon lives in the Four Seasons Hotel on Hamilton Place, next to the Playboy (Bunny) Club, which endured a ghoulish return ten years ago but is now thankfully dead again, though its Twitter account thinks it isn’t, and is offering a zombie Bunny feed as an act of hope and maybe resurrection. As ever when almost nude women are offered for money, I think: why can’t you just be charming?

The Four Seasons is an odd building built in 1970 for the international rich: a pale rectangle with vast windows to suck in the remnants of Hyde Park, which is again prostrate under its annual Winter Wonderland. (See previous review of chorizo pretzel, Dalek cashpoint and Nazi-themed leisure village.) I’m aware that an explicit nadir of civilisation is a great review. A few nadirs are charming; wall-to-wall nadirs are something else.

‘Your flight to Egypt has been cancelled. Have you considered Rwanda?’

From afar, the Four Seasons looks like it wants to be a national flag. It is not on a promontory – the London bowl is flat – so it has made its own. In its defence, it isn’t as dirty as the Dorchester or as hideous as the Peninsula: its interiors feel just manifested and unreal. I get lost and walk through an underground car park to reach Pavyllon and I enjoy this more than I should. You can’t spin a semi-public car park – or, rather, no one has yet.

The Four Seasons is also decorated as a Winter Wonderland, and because it is owned by the ruling family of Bahrain and its flagship restaurant is French, this doesn’t mean the Brexity yet weirdly German-style Nutcracker Edwardian middle-class childhood written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and boxed by Fortnum & Mason. Though if you must have that, it is only steps away.

There is, as is the fashion, no Baby Jesus, no manger (not really appropriate in a bright golden hotel) and, above all, no God. (Likewise inappropriate. Christianity has mellowed lately but the rich never will.) It is, rather, white, silver and icy blue: a shivering northern Christmas with a plastic Christmas tree because plants are non-compliant. I think the designer is groping for Finland and its nothingness. Who isn’t?

And in a long gold room is Pavyllon. It isn’t really gold, this slender restaurant – it’s neutrals, the self-denying aesthetic of the age – but it feels like it. It must be soothing to live in a world where everything looks the same: restful. It is as finely made as anywhere I have been in London, though it feels nothing like the London I grew up in: the softest carpets; the finest tableware; the kindest chairs. There isn’t a full-sized tree or a champagne trolley of ice that looks like a petrified hedgehog: that was Monte Carlo, and that’s a different land.

I come first on 7 October, of all nights, for dinner. I assume Jews ate out on other evenings of disaster. I hope they did. I hope they chomped red meat and stared mutely at broken glass. Perhaps this is why I respond so well to Pavyllon. May all sanctuaries be like this. It feels, at first, like any common cavern of gold, but there is warmth here and I expand into it. A long bright kitchen meets the dining-room, and inside this kitchen are normal, smiling, gifted people.

This is the 16th restaurant of Yannick Alléno, a man who fully inhabits the character of handsome, clever Frenchman. He seems to relish it, and I do too. He worships Escoffier, and has 15 Michelin stars, just one behind Alain Ducasse. I admire Ducasse but I’ve never loved a meal at a Ducasse restaurant. They are too theatrical, too self-conscious, too alienating. I don’t want to be awed, I am hungry.

There is a Pavyllon in Paris, and Alléno brought 70 staff to London, like a travelling circus. Perhaps this is the thrill of the beginning (and Alléno is here, he shows us round, as if presenting a beloved child) but the meal is exquisite. It’s almost a shame it is inside the Four Seasons, which, being an expensive hotel, is beyond London: a flag ready to take flight. The beef stroganoff is tidy, immaculate; the lamb chops well cooked, which is rare; the mashed potato as I would make it but more dedicated, and perfect; the chocolate soufflé too good for people, as art should be and ever is. This is French food for people who do not seek to be patronised or alarmed by it, and it is delivered kindly. I hope they keep their tips.

I’ve reviewed a lot of London’s hotel restaurants lately, and this is the only one in which I don’t feel like a victim of larceny, or cold. The portions are, as in great French restaurants, not large enough to make the common person overfull. This is food as delight, not anaesthetic, and although – because? – it has none of the self-conscious masochism of Le Gavroche, it is the obvious successor to Michel Roux and his over-bloodied knife. (The zombie Bunny club never had a chance. It was a different kind of food.) The prices are mad at dinner, but I can’t fix that, and there’s a festive lunch for £55.50. It has a glut of menus, as if it is not yet sure who it is for. Perhaps no one is deserving. Merry Christmas, and all that.

Pavyllon, Four Seasons Hotel, Hamilton Place, London W1J 7DR; tel: 020 7319 5200.

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