Theo Randall at the Intercontinental
1 Hamilton Place
London W1J 7QY
Tel. 020 7318 8747
Food type: Italian
Food rating: 4/10
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner
Website: Theo Randall at the Intercontinental
Despite frequent appearances on TV, most recently on Good Food Channel’s Market Kitchen, Theo Randall has never rose above the ranks of minor celebrity chefs amidst more illustrious counterparts like Giorgio Locatelli and (shudder) Jamie Oliver. It is definitely not for a lack of his cooking ability. Despite not (currently) holding a Michelin star, Theo was at some stage of his career (actually a good 17 years) the mastermind alongside Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at the ever popular River Café where he won them their first star.
Theo began his career working under Max Magarian at Chez Max in Surbiton. He spent four years training here before a short stint at the River Café. Theo then moved to California where he had a short one year stint under Alice Waters at Chez Panise. He soon found himself back in England where he was appointed head chef at River Café. More importantly, now as a business partner, he elevated River Café’s status from, well, a simple café to one of the most popular foodie destinations in London. In his own words, Randall could have easily stayed at his cosy little bubble he had erected for himself at River Café but opted for a new challenge.
“I always felt that I might look back and wonder if I could ever have done it on my own.” – Theo Randall
In November 2006, Theo left River Café to head his own venture at the Intercontinental. The restaurant has gone from strength to strength winning the accolade of ‘Italian Restaurant of the Year’ at the 2008 London Restaurant Awards. Much like at River Café, the cooking here is based on simplicity, seasonality and ingredients of the highest quality. Randall attributes this to the frequent yearly trips he would make as a child (with his parents of course) to Italy where they would stock up on the top produce available there – a practice he still partakes in to inspire his ever changing menus.
Speaking of the menu, the lunch / pre-theatre menu offers incredible value at £23 for 2 courses or £27 for 3 courses. Book through certain internet websites and you will receive a glass of prosecco as well. Unsurprisingly the full priced a la carte menu is a spicier affair with starters priced between £8 – £14 (mainly £12), pasta £10 – £30 depending on size, mains £26 – £34 and desserts £7. In true Italian style, portions are hearty and generous but if you feel particularly puckish, side orders are also available at £4 a pop. As usual, we tried a mixture of dishes from the lunch menu as the full priced a la carte menu.
Bruschetta & Foccacia
A nibble of bruschetta and light Foccacia bread were brought to us while we were perusing the menu. Talk about killing two birds with one stone because aside from this serving, there is no bread basket which goes around the restaurant. The bruschetta was particularly good having just the right lick of char-grilled goodness, topped with some tasty tomatoes. (5/10)
Calamari in Pandena
Pan-fried squid with fresh borlotti beans, chilli and anchovy was a simple but well judged dish. The squid was soft and tender and the heat from the chilli and saltiness from the anchovy was well balanced without detracting from the squid itself. A mixture of parsley and chopped rocket added an interesting bitter background alongside the textures from the borlotti beans. (5/10)
Bruschetta di Granchio
From the lunch menu, a plate of picked Devon crab with aioli, bruschetta and mixed leaves (at a £2 supplement) was well, as described on the menu. There really wasn’t much cooking involved but the core ingredients used were at least of very high quality. (4/10)
Spaghetti con Aragosta
The classic lobster spaghetti cooked with beautiful San Marzano tomatoes was well timed – the lobster ( of the notorious Dorset Blue variety which becomes mushy when overcooked) had good texture without being chewy. Unfortunately, the dish, despite the quality of cooking and ingredients was let down by a simple rookie error – underseasoning (by a significant mile I should add). (4/10)
Tagliatelle al Pescatore
Similarly a bowl of seafood tagliatelle suffered the same fate of carefully cooked shellfish and sea bass, yet again let down by the lack of salt. (3/10) These mistakes are even more surprising given that if there is one thing you would expect an Italian kitchen to be able to do correctly it would be pasta. Ask any Italian chef worth his (er) salt and he will tell you that cooking pasta requires a lot of Maldon’s finest, both in the water and the sauce itself. The line cook in charge of the pastas must either have the salt tolerance of a snail or forgotten to salt the dish altogether because this would be the only logical explanation for both pasta dishes (but not any of the other dishes) to show up so severely underseasoned. What is more disappointing however is that both dishes managed to make it past the final inspection at the pass to the table in its shape and form. (Apparently Theo was not cooking during this service but paying customers receive no such concessions on the final bill, especially given that both dishes come from the full price ALC menu)
Piccione al Forno
Moving past the disappointment of the second course was a much better plate of wood roasted Anjou pigeon, marinated in marsala with fresh cannellini beans, beefy tomatoes and crispy pancetta. The cooking was simplistic, the pigeon incredibly tasty, even if it was a fraction overcooked for my liking. (Admittedly this is a personal preference as I like my pigeon extremely rare) (5/10)
Arrosto di Faraona
One of the best (savoury) dishes of the day – wood roasted guinea fowl stuffed with Parma ham, mascarpone and thyme on a bed of braised lentils and chicory featured two plump breast of the game bird with the stuffing keeping it the meat moist whilst forming a creamy sauce. The combination of earthy lentils and bitter chicory was absolutely more-ish. What was more incredible was this dish came from the cut price lunch menu, representing incredible value for money. (6/10)
Almalfi Lemon Tart
Any sins of poor pasta cooking was soon forgotten with the first bite of the blissful lemon tart, one of Randall’s signature desserts. Yes this was just a basic lemon tart, but it is in such classics that the smallest attentions to detail are the most important. The base has to be perfectly cooked and crumbly. The lemon custard has to be just set so that it is wobbly and silky smooth such that it simply slides down the throat. The choice of lemon and the amount used has to be well judge. And well… it was. This was as good as any lemon tart I have eaten. Actually, just thinking of this dish makes my mouth water. (8/10)
A strawberry sorbet does what it says on the tin with good amounts of strawberry flavour and the acidity well judged. (4/10)
Petit fours were rather mean with a little biscotti and chocolate truffle offered, given that coffee and tea are charged at full, Mayfair prices.
Service was pleasant and friendly, even if it was slow at times. Perhaps it is worth mentioning the restaurant’s policy (or lack thereof) with children. I don’t mind children dining in high end restaurants as long as they are well behaved. After all, I have dined at 3* Michelin restaurants where children are allowed without ever hearing so much as a peep from the young ones. It is however a different story altogether to allow infants screaming at the top of their lungs in a restaurant like this (which I assume has Michelin star ambitions). In such circumstances where a parent brings their tiny one, the restaurant should either turn them away or, if they still insist on doing business, assign someone to take the baby out when she starts crying. I find it completely unacceptable that nothing was done by both the parents who were busy stuffing their faces or the restaurant themselves when the baby started screaming.
Oh and the cooking? To be honest, I feel a bit mean scoring this a 4/10 given the quality of ingredients on display and the sublime lemon tart, but with the inconsistencies in the cooking I think this is more than justified. So is it worth paying Theo Randall’s a visit? Yes and no. Judging from the food perspective alone, the lunch menu offers incredible value for money with generous portions and good quality ingredients. In comparison, I do feel that the pricing of the ALC menu is rather spicy, and allowing for human errors, the cooking is simplistic to justify the price tag. Unfortunately, I will remember my experience here at Theo Randalls not for the food but the baby who nearly tore a hole in my ear drums.