So much has changed over the past two weeks, let alone the past two years. It’s made me want to go somewhere that’s so far removed from my reality that it stops me in my tracks. I want to exclaim: where am I? Who am I? What is this place? This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife!
I digress… I want escapism, pure and simple. I wasn’t expecting to find it within the hallowed walls of The Twenty Two in Mayfair. A stone’s throw away from the awful, heaving throngs of Oxford Street, the Twenty Two Hotel is an elegant affair – also, perhaps unsurprisingly, an elegant place to have an affair, although that’s not what’s brought me here. Its restaurant, headed by former Picture team Alan Christie and Colin Kelly, is much the same.
The chefs’ reunion is a pleasant surprise for fans of Picture, which had two establishments in Marylebone and Fitzrovia before both closed suddenly in 2019 for “many boring reasons”. But, through The Twenty Two, they are promising to bring a “Mediterranean flourish to modern British fare”.
What does that look like? Ingredients like octopus (in croquette form), artichokes (the crisp salad kind with French beans), and Portobello mushrooms (with grilled polenta and slow-cooked kale) feature prominently on the menu. It’s also peppered with classic French cookery, with dishes such as tuna Nicoise salad, lobster Thermidor and Dover sole meuniere evoking the memory of an Eighties dinner party. Surprisingly, no prawn cocktail, but perhaps that would be too contrived.
Grilled prawns with seaweed butter to begin (Kate Ng)
It’s the interior of The Twenty Two, however, that really whisks me away to another world. Stepping off the busy street, a hush falls and I can’t help but marvel at the restaurant’s grandness; all baby blue walls and mustard-coloured velvet chairs, soft lighting and plush floors, fringed lamps and pretentious bouquets of flowers. An ornate gilded mirror takes pride of place in the main dining room, but it’s easy to squirrel yourself away into a dark corner to conduct your (ahem) affairs, or simply exchange gossip and secrets over some truly fantastic cocktails.
That is how my dining partner and I begin our evening. No, not by conducting an affair, but by gossiping in a corner until the waiter gently pops our bubble to take us to a table by the gilded mirror. It’s the best seat in the house – offering a panoramic view of the room so we can watch other (more) glamorous diners come and go. For one evening, we can pretend we’re buzzy London socialites, giggling over our glasses of bubbly.
You may want to ask for a steak knife with your sirloin (Kate Ng)
Our meal kicks off with seasonal asparagus and hollandaise, grilled prawns with seaweed butter – both are delicious – and polenta chips. The problem with polenta chips is that they are never quite as good as I hope: too large and hot to eat straight away, too dry and boring once they cool down. I would give these a miss next time in favour of the Devonshire crab salad or tuna tartare with fennel, radish and green chilli.
I opt for the sirloin steak – my spouse is pescetarian, so I don’t eat much meat at home; this makes it easy to cut back on meat but I’ll allow it on this escapist night out. The only problem is that they’ve given me a butter knife to work with. Everything had been pretty much impeccable until then. This faux pas shakes me out of my reverie, like a glitch in the simulation. But it’s no big deal. After sawing away with little success, I ask for a steak knife and one appears promptly before me.
It’s strange how such a small, insignificant thing can stick in one’s mind, but it’s small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. The rest of the evening at The Twenty Two is a delight, and the staff are particularly wonderful. Attentive and friendly, they provide a more modern experience in what could be a much stuffier place, and the restaurant is better for it. I have to say: the vibes are immaculate.
22 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London, W1K 6LF | 020 3988 5022 | the22.london
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