Marble-top tables, pinkish-terracotta walls, velvet-cushioned banquettes, wallpaper panels of flamingos, exotic trees and golden clouds, subtly back-lit shelves with precious-looking urns, pots and vases… The Aubrey, at the London Mandarin Oriental hotel, is, says its spiel, a ‘home-away-from-home’. Well, that’s some snazzy home you’ve got there, teeming with staff, cocktails being shaken at every turn…
I’ll be sure to tee up my interior designer when the millions land in the bank. And Great Aunt Ethel had better make sure there are cash gifts in her will, as inheriting some large, ghostly pile won’t touch the sides of an Aubrey bill, which, for two – and not insane amounts of booze – is north of 400 notes. The cheapest wine on the list was a riesling – at £70 a bottle – and only an idiot would pass on a bottle of sake (the budget option there being the same as the riesling).
The bottles were really quite exceptional – a Weingut Peter Jakob Kühn from Germany and the sake a Tamagawa Tokubetsu Junmai – and I ushered them in with the flair and confidence I would at an equally unaffordable gin palace.
One does get a little carried away in the basement of the Mandarin in Knightsbridge. After all, amid such swank one must be swanky. The smart access is through the front door, where a doorman does his finest ushering; the entrance from the hotel being a little underwhelming, what with its location being off some poky grey corridors near the loos and the spa.
We had a corner table, from which perch we could view figments of blondness and tight leather trousers, gaggles of young women at tables, their faces uplit by phones. They were perfectly attired, perhaps, for the cocktails and Japanese food that would follow. They could then have shimmered from The Aubrey and headed for a nightclub, shored up by the knowledge that, while they had paid enough to enjoy an 18-course tasting menu, little had passed their lips but raw fish and a spoonful of miso-glazed aubergine.
We wore no such figure-hugging garb, so waltzed through the menu guided by Martin, a brilliant waiter of Japanese-Irish descent, a rather mesmerising effect. We gladly obeyed him and consumed excellent sashimi, elegantly cut and at perfect temperature. A little bowl of devastatingly good raw salmon and roe came with a delicate wooden spoon, and I wolfed it down like a starving urchin might porridge.
There’s an outrageous highlight, too, in a plate of Wagyu sando. Look away now if you’re squeamish when it comes to spending the price of renting a mega-yacht (complete with full staff, plus fuel and tips…). In essence it is a pair of tiny, finger-sized sandwiches. The white bread is lightly toasted and filled with rare-grilled beef and mayo. It may have something to do with the beef being Wagyu that makes this two-bite sarnie £78. But it really is terribly good.
Then again, while the thin strips of black and sticky aubergine were deeply, stickily delightful, a cluster of corn tempura – four misshapen balls of corn – proved to be doughy, dull and forgettable.
We shared a miso soufflé to end. It was a beautiful thing of perky perfection, risen from the bowl, with a light green dusting and its right side open-mouthed, as it were, like a hungry Pac-Man.
The Aubrey used to be the trendy bistro Bar Boulud. Now it’s an izakaya, the poshest kind of pub imaginable. Steel yourself, steal some money, and grab some tiny slices of the action.