A twinkling 1940s Hollywood movie set that doubles as a glitzy brasserie
Almost everything about Brasserie of Light, a new restaurant at Selfridges in London, sounded atrocious. My mistrust of fancy restaurants hastily tagged on to shops is not unfounded. Who wants to pay top whack for a niçoise salad, then grapple their way home tipsily via the casual sports jacket section?
It’s a clash of fine leisure pursuits – shopping and scoffing – that sullies them both. I’m a traditionalist: food in department stores should either be “a nice scone” or “an all-day breakfast, five items for £4”. Not, as it is in this glitzy brasserie, wagyu steaks and hand-dived scallops. Also, my last Selfridges dining experience was in a dire, seaside-themed pop-up on the top floor, where the staff had been press-ganged into wearing Breton tops and deck shoes, as if their suitcases had been misplaced on a cruise and they were clad entirely in items from the gift shop.
Never again, I said. But I did, and this time Selfridges knocked the cynic right out of me. Brasserie of Light is a splendid-looking, twinkling, expensively hewn 1940s Hollywood movie set that serves cocktails, carpaccio of tuna, steak tartare and shaved fennel salad. It’s by the people who own, among many others, The Ivy, Le Caprice and Sexy Fish. Restaurant impresario Richard Caring knows how to deliver modern dining glamour. Yes, you might kvetch that his ventures are not your idea of glamour, but, nevertheless, his places speak a language of vaguely affordable largesse and living like a princess on a prosecco-level salary that many adore.Advertisement
Sexy Fish in Mayfair, for example, is absolutely bloody ridiculous; it is a prodigal prince’s play palace filled with gold-plated crocodiles and tropical fish tanks. I loved every fibre of its big, daft decadence. I couldn’t tell you a single thing I ate there – some sort of robata skewers, maybe – but Caring’s swagger is to fling lots of money at a venue that, by turn, charms your entire pay packet out of your purse. He decorates like a 1980s New York mafia wife who has been told to keep her windfalls discreet.
There are heavy brush-strokes of Sexy Fish at Brasserie of Light, where the main dining room features a Damien Hirst crystal Pegasus statue with a 30ft wingspan suspended from one wall, and several of the serving staff wear diamond-encrusted waistcoats. It is my new very favourite horse after Dobbin from Rentaghost. There are also mirror-topped tables, dark-blue leather banquettes, tart’s boudoir table lamps and a pink, actually quite disgusting, ladies’ bathroom, which somehow works.
The food is much better than one would imagine, too. There’s a pungent, buttery ham and gruyère croque monsieur with hot, crisp fries, and a good, well-balanced, sharply delicious roquefort salad with endive, pickled walnuts and apple for sweetness.
It’s all infinitely prettier, and more flowery and finickity than that served in the original Ivy over on West Street, although the raison d’être of that establishment was for celebs to have clandestine fun. Brasserie of Light, on the other hand, is a place where people who’d like to be famous can plaster Instagram with evidence of each stage of their meal, before jumping from their seats to be snapped with the wingèd horse. I’ve been three times in the past month because it’s open all day, always gorgeously lit, and the ambience is never anything less than nicely bubbling.
There is good, crisp popcorn shrimp with a Cajun-influenced sauce and truffled mash – the sort of carb that livens up any bad day. The best main could be the black cod on charred broccoli, which comes with a vibrant wasabi mayo. Puddings are preposterous in a Heston-type way: there’s an “apple” made of morello cherry ice-cream and dark chocolate, lying winded on a lawn of almond biscotti and entitled Fallen Fruit. You will be tempted to go for Pegasus Pie, the dessert in tribute to the spangly winged Shergar on the wall. Don’t. It’s a bowl of yuzu-flavoured foam with sesame biscuit wings. It’s pudding for dessert-dodgers who have no intention of eating pudding.
Better still, however, don’t eat at all. Just go and sit up at the bar, drink Bottega Brut and feel like Rita Hayworth in Only Angels Have Wings. The trick is to leave via the Duke Street exit and not end up three sheets to the wind in the homeware section buying tiny Le Creuset ramekins for a dinner party you’re far too antisocial ever to throw. I thought brasseries didn’t belong in department stores. I have seen the light.
• Brasserie of Light Duke Street, 400 Oxford Street, London W1, 020-3940 9600. Open all week 8am-midnight (9am-11pm Sun). About £35 a head for three courses, plus drinks and service.