Tying in with the 1920s, prohibition era of the bar, Bar Américain is one of those ‘you have to know it’s there to go there’ places, tucked in neatly behind Brassiere Zedel and with no discernible clues from the outside that it exists at all. Sights of women in flapper dresses and men in black and white suits suggests this is a popular go-to place for hosting Great Gatsby-style parties.
The cocktails taste delicious, and are very intricately crafted, thus almost justifying the extortionate rates. My personal favourite is the Chrysler, which will get you drunk and satisfy the tastebuds – a truly rare commodity amongst cocktails these days (the cocktails in Slug and Lettuce taste nice but have barely any alcohol, whereas cocktails that are overloaded with booze end up tasting like horrible, cough medicinesque concoctions). The waiters are very attentive and bring you a small amount of popcorn to chomp on whilst you’re enjoying your drinks.
The lighting in Bar Américain is dark, too dark for my liking, and the décor a little out there for me. The seating was certainly extremely comfortable – plush, American-style furniture. All in all, it’s one of the more elegant places I’ve gotten inebriated in, but also by far the most expensive. Just so you know what I’m talking about, a cocktail you can drink in about 5 minutes clocks in at £12 (cheaper options are the classic cocktails for £9, but why shell out for something you’ve tasted before if you’re here for the adventure?). Don’t act like I never told you.
I had a cheeky peruse of TripAdvisor after I went to Lal Qila and prior to beginning my review. I was absolutely gobsmacked to see it was ranked 52nd of all the restaurants in London. Punters must have gone to a different restaurant to me.
Alarm bells rang as soon as I asked if the waiters could hang my coat up for me (a rather sophisticated, pricey little number from Monsoon that I have seen other restaurant staff in the past treat with the care such a fancy thing deserves). Imagine my surprise (and chagrin) to learn that they didn’t have pegs to hang coats up on! What’s the point in having such lavish interiors (as Lal Qila certainly did), if you don’t even have a basic necessity such as coat hangers?
With my mac slung over the back of my chair, we turned to ordering drinks. I distinctly remember ordering a beer, because that's my modus operandi at restaurants, but the waiters seemed to decide to ignore me entirely, and serve me a Coca Cola, under the guise that that was what I asked for. I know damn well what I asked for, and that definitely wasn’t it. When I asked for the correct drink to be presented to me, the waiter went about a bout of trying to re-write history, and convince me that that was what I ordered. Nah mate.
Now, to the food. To its credit, it definitely wasn’t the worst Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to – that would be Tandoori Nights *shudder*. But it sure as hell wasn’t close to coming to the best. I had a mellow cheese-infused dish, which was inoffensive but also unexciting. The rice was soft but tasteless and the Na’an bread utterly uninspiring. All in all, Bland with a capital B.
I have pored over the TripAdvisor page and it definitely links the same address of the Lal Qila I went to. Perhaps the 52nd best restaurant in London had to be accessed by walking into a wardrobe in the place I went to, Narnia-style. Because the place I went to definitely wasn’t it.
Now, call me a cleanliness nut, but, if I see any restaurant with a food hygiene score of anything other than 5, I judge them internally straight away. Harsh, perhaps, but I just don’t think it’s so much for ask, given the extortionate London prices restaurants charge these days, for meals that more often than not turn out to be disappointing, that the sanitation around the ingredients is nothing less than perfect. Olivelli had a grading of 4 for its food hygiene, yet I’d heard good things about it, including that celebrities of Hollywood’s golden era liked dining here. Something, clearly, had to give.
For starter, we ordered antipasto all’italiana, which had some flat notes (the rectangular blob was a bit tasteless), but the assortments of meats completed each other. I would have seen more in the way of dips for £16.95, and it could perhaps have been presented a little more artistically, but overall, it both served to treat the customer to a little taste of Italy, and whet one’s appetite tantalisingly.
For my main, I opted for spigola all’acqua pazza, or for the non-Italian speaking amongst you (don't worry, I just lifted it from the restaurant's website ;) ), seabass. It was priced at £16.45, but honestly, I have had much better seafood dishes in my work canteen for £3.30 (especially this fisherman's pie which I still dream about). The potatos that came with them were stodgy and there weren't enough of them to make up my dinnertime requirement of carbs, the cherry tomatos were Tesco produce at best, and the fact that there was bone in the fish, and we weren’t alerted it, was a huge problem as I’d already had two glasses of wine and a large beer by this point. I had to draw on every fibre of my drunken concentration to check that I wasn’t ingesting any bones. Extremely poor form from the restaurant.
All in all, I’m at a loss to explain why such esteemed actors liked to frequent this place, which definitely likes to package itself as better than it is. It almost fooled me with the starters, but after the mains, I realised this place was all namedrop and no bite. The fact that it scored 4/5 on food hygiene, I realised, oversold it; that’s by far the highest rating it’ll ever be getting.