Park Chinois: Growing up is not always fun (March 2016)

It was all just a bit too serious. As I sat waiting for my dining comrade to arrive on a recent lunchtime visit to Park Chinois, my first instinct was to rebel, perhaps do something naughty or to cause some sort of minor disturbance. I know this sounds horribly childish, but my hackles were raised from the moment I walked in. Diners may be used to swanky affairs in this part of Mayfair (the restaurant is a couple of doors along from Nobu on one side and Sexy Fish on the other, with Novikov almost opposite), but after having laboured past an immensely heavy red curtain, I was greeted by an exceptionally snooty and supercilious gentleman. The suggestion seemed to be that I should consider myself privileged to eat here, rather than having chosen to do so of my own free will. Such an attitude was perhaps all the more outrageous given the restaurant was not even close to being half full. Although Alan Yau has tried to model Park Chinois on the decadent atmosphere of 1930s Shanghai, the ambience felt more like that of a semi-exclusive airport lounge, albeit one with some heavy, expensive and old-fashioned furnishings. The volume of chatter was kept to a fairly low level; when one did hear conversation, it was about deals and bonuses; and a couple of mobile phones rang abruptly loudly (yet no-one intervened). Somehow, the attempt at being grown-up doesn’t really work and Yau seems much better at creating a ‘good’ or ‘fun’ atmosphere in places such as Hakkasan, Yautcha, or Duck & Rice. My resentment grew as I flicked through the wine list. The premise here seems to be on quality, but at a clear price. Less well-off diners be warned; it is almost impossible to find a bottle at Park Chinois for less than £50. And, if you’re keen on something other than wine from France, Italy or Spain, then forget it. When we got round to ordering, we opted for Dim Sum, which was priced broadly competitively, at around £4-8 per item. Mains, however, were more eye-watering, with some coming in at close to £50. The dishes we sampled were, for the most part, pretty good. The Sichuan dumplings stood out, and packed a punch of spicy intensity, but others, such as the pork ribs and black bean, were pretty forgettable. Furthermore, what I remember more than the food was just how agonisingly long it took for the dishes to arrive. Given the relative emptiness of the place, this was all the more surprising. I am told Park Chinois gets better in the evenings, when there is live music (perhaps more evocative of the Shanghai scene they are trying to create), but based on my lunchtime experience, I certainly won’t be rushing there again anytime soon.