By Jo Cooksey
I have ascended the winding staircase at 50 Spring Gardens many times when it was the bar and restaurant, Room. However, on Sunday we went up the stairs to visit its new incarnation, Grand Pacific, the newest opening for the Living Ventures group.
Fundamentally, the shell of the building, being Grade II listed is unchanged. The beautifully rich, dark wood panelling and the tall windows are still in place but the new, much enlarged bar, the stunning light fittings and the colonial furniture have given it a whole new lease of life.
This was the last project that Living Venture’s founder, Tim Bacon worked on before he sadly passed away and it is a great tribute to his vision and creativity. The dominant motif is the pineapple, which is incorporated into a stunning chandelier that hangs over the bar, gold cocktail cups and the tiepins worn by the staff. The whole experience is like stepping back in time to the Raffles Hotel, in Singapore, in the 1920’s. Or as a friend put it, the grand dining room on the Titanic. Particularly as there was a palm court orchestra playing, which added another dimension to the event. Though I doubt this ‘ship’ will be sinking any time soon.
The dining area is made up of high tables, round tables, Lloyd Loom wicker chairs and cream banquettes and the tables are set traditionally with silver, cut glass and flowers. We were shown to our table, where our waiter for the afternoon, Max, greeted us. A seriously polite and friendly young man, who was attentive but not overbearing. In fact, all the staff we encountered were the same. They obviously all got the memo about making the customer’s experience a memorable one.
We ordered drinks whilst we perused the menu. The boys choosing a lovely, crisp Sauvignon Blanc whilst us ladies chose cocktails. I was desperate to get my hands on one of the gold pineapples and frankly I wasn’t picky about what was in it. The lure of an Instagram snap was too strong. In the event it was called The Grand Pineapple…obviously…and was a tongue tingling combination of white rum, ginger liqueur, Benedictine, pineapple and lime juices and chocolate bitters. Totally delicious and decadent. Frankie chose an Earl Grey Sling, a play on the usual Singapore Sling containing Tanqueray, Cointreau, lemon and apple juices, loose leaf Earl Grey and Ginger Ale. If I hadn’t been so set on the pineapple I would definitely have had this. It was a lovely, light and refreshing. Just the ticket for tropical climes.
Regarding food, three of us chose off the main menu and one of us decided on the three course Classic Sunday Roast, that consists of Prawn Cocktail, either Roast Beef or Roast Chicken and a dessert for 24.95. You can also have just two courses for £21.95.
My starter of Pork Balls skewered on Lemongrass Stalks with Harumaki Dipping sauce was delightful and thankfully light and fluffy, rather than the usual dried, chewy affairs I have been served in other venues. Everyone else enjoyed his or her starters of the aforementioned Prawn Cocktail, (big, juicy prawns), Chicken & Spring Onion Gyoza (slightly underdone) and a very generous Chirashi Sushi Bowl. The appetisers ranged from £6 to £9
Another round of drinks and we were raring to get into our mains. I had ordered the Lamb Massaman Curry for £17.95, which is served with Forbidden Rice and Gunpowder Potatoes. When the plate was put in front of me I was slightly disappointed. It was a big plate containing three fairly small bowls and two triangles of very flat, flat bread. However, the contents of said bowls we delicious. The chunks of lamb fell apart and melted in the mouth. The Gunpowder Potatoes consisted of new, purple and sweet spuds cooked in mild spices. I’m not entirely sure what was Forbidden about the rice but I do know that this dish is usually made from the rare black rice, that used to only be served to Chinese Emperors but it was pleasant enough. In the end the portion size was enough for me, though maybe not for someone with a bigger appetite.
One of our party ordered the Tempura Sea Bass , which was a very generous portion of two lightly battered fillets and the other the Tea Smoked Salmon with a side of Asparagus Spears in Yuzu Hollandaise. Both were very happy with their choices and I have to say that the Asparagus and Hollandaise were perfection itself. The mains start at £10 for a Classic Caesar Salad to £28 for an 8oz Fillet Steak with sides between £3.50 and £4.50.
Our lunch buddy who ordered the Sunday Roast was in for a treat. A real live chef wheeled over a beautiful, shiny silver meat trolley, complete with domed lid and proceeded to carve the perfectly pink beef at the table. I believe that the trolley is an original 1920’s model and cost the restaurant a small fortune but it was so worth it. The accompaniments arrived on a silver tray that was placed in the middle of the table for him to help himself. We all tasted each other dishes and all agreed that the mash that came with the roast was buttery mash heaven. However, the roast potatoes could have done with another ten minutes in the oven to crisp them up and the cauliflower cheese could have done with some cheese in it
The menu says that ‘Afters should always be an indulgence’ and we always like to indulge, no matter how full we are. I ordered the Coconut Panna Cotta with Mango Mousse, Fruit Salad and Sesame Poppy Tuilles. Served in a martini glass the creamy panna cotta and tangy mango mousse was topped with the tiniest pieces of fruit I have ever seen. I don’t mean that as complaint because the effect was delightful. It looked as though the dessert had been scattered with hundreds of tiny jewels. I couldn’t have been happier. The desserts all come in under £6.
Similarly the two who chose the Chocolate Fondants with Vanilla Ice Cream, Salted Caramel Sauce, Honeycomb pieces and roasted Peanuts were equally impressed. Mr Roast Dinner, who didn’t get a choice; his menu was finished with a Hibiscus & Sherry Trifle. The fruit jelly was lush, think grown up Vimto jelly but we all agreed that the cream/custard to jelly ratio was out of kilter. Too much of the latter and not enough of the former.
Christian, the manager gave me complimentary cocktail called the Wax Seal, which frankly I would happily drown in. Bourbon, Red Vermouth, Plum Sake and Bitters aged in Port tanned Bourbon barrels that are specially shipped over from Kentucky. The spirit is then decanted in to little bottles, sealed with red wax and stamped with the restaurant’s own seal. It then has a handwritten label attached that describes when it was barrelled, when it was bottled and when it was served. A fabulous little creative piece of table theatre.
In summary, we had an absolutely splendid time and as the restaurant had only been open for a fortnight I’m sure dishes will be tweaked to perfection over time. We will definitely return.