London is simply full of classically elegant dining and drinking spots, meaning that here at Wonderland City we always have a daunting backlog of bars and restaurants to visit and bring to the attention of our Golden Era-loving readers. We recently undertook one of our “style perambulations”, again, with interesting results.
The setting was the southern extremity of Mayfair, just north of Piccadilly; firmly established as the habitat of hedge fund managers, oligarchs and oil sheiks. This might not sound promising to our discerning readership, but the density of watering holes and nosheries, there, plus the overlap of tradition with contemporary plutocracy makes for an interesting mix that warrants investigation.
It could be said, in fact, that Mayfair provides the most vivid example of 21st century ‘London Opulent’ style. And that can be good or bad. That style is ornamentally charged and rich in detail and therefore partly refutes the 20th century hyper-minimalist, fractured project of modernism. As such, it is rich in historical references, ranging from fin-de-siècle to the first third of the 20th century.
In its best form, it results in spaces that feel authentic, despite their historical newness, and, more importantly, combine stylishness with unapologetic glamour. Think of The Wolseley, The Delaunay, The Ritz’s Beaufort Bar or Claridge’s Fumoir. The danger with reference and theatricality, of course, is that it can slip into pastiche and vulgarity, like all those wretched flavoured “martinis” that slick bars flogged in the 1990s.
Park Chinois – Earnestly Theatrical
We had been meaning to visit this place for some time, intrigued by plush social media photography and a recommendation by someone we trust. Park Chinois (Berkley Street) was launched in 2015 by Alan Yau, a hospitality entrepreneur of undeniable ability and accomplishment (Wagamama, Busaba Eathai, Hakkasan and Yauatcha, among others). Billing itself as “a uniquely glamorous Asian restaurant – inspired by 1930’s Shanghai”, Park Chinois consists of a ground floor Salon de Chine dining room and the subterranean nightclub Club Chinois. During our visit, both spaces featured well-rendered live music performances, which in the Club’s case extend to dancing and burlesque.
The profligacy of scarlet drapery and gold leaf is a bit overwhelming, combining to produce a slightly… boudoir-like effect – there is absolutely nothing subtle about this place. But we are prepared to embrace Park Chinois’ demonstrativeness because we respect the intent of the place, the spirit and we especially respect its earnestness. Not everyone will want to spend an evening in this fever dream of an upscale opium den in the 1930s Bund. But if they do, there will be nothing half-hearted about their experience.
The service was attentive and the drinks good, though not exceptional, given the £18-24 price range. The upstairs is, overall, a less louche and more tasteful experience, which makes sense.
Park Chinois will be added to the Wonderland City directory.
Isabel Mayfair – Café Society or Disco-tastic?
It seems churlish to have reservations about Isabel (Albemarle Street). The staff, in particular, were impressively professional: from the young bartender with a serious dedication to his craft to the smilingly helpful and charming front-of-house. Perhaps, the issue is Isabel’s split aesthetic personality – somewhere between an outdoor French café circa-1940 and the large interior which brings to mind a very luxe version of the 1970s disco era (if the 1970s had been twice as rich as they actually were…). We enjoyed the drinks though, like Park Chinois, the prices reflect location more than inherent quality
Split rating. People: ■■■■. Look: ■□□□
The lounge at Bar de Prés – An Interesting Concept
Also on Albemarle Street, close to Brown’s Hotel (forthcoming article…), Bar de Prés is chef Cyril Lignac’s first venture outside France. We had read about a new downstairs lounge, to complement the quite modern restaurant. The inspiration for the lounge is a quite unique, referencing a Continental, post-Deco idiom from the late 1940s or very early 1950s. Most retro-inspired places tend to focus on the 1900-1939 Golden Era or, alternatively, a later incarnation of ‘Mid-Century’ minimalist cool. This interesting, transitional period is seldom given much space and, n that basis, we think the lounge at Bar de Prés is worth a visit. Regrettably, at the time of our visit, the bar was closed, so we could not sample the drinks.