SSome restaurants arrive on the scene all blazing cannons of self-exaggeration and crazy promises. The newly opened Maine in Mayfair, central London, describes itself as a “mix of old world British elegance, New England extravagance and subterranean decadence.” I know: I’m already exhausted too.
Yet after spending a Saturday lunchtime in this bustling multi-story palace of pleasure, there are definitely bones of truth among the nonsense. What could be more extravagant than taking a Grade II listed Georgian building on the west side of Hanover Square and turning it into a gargantuan party venue with 350 seats? If you walk past this former residence of the Duke of Montrose on a sightseeing getaway, you will certainly be struck by the elegant and imposing facade of the house, for this is how London looks like a souvenir snow globe. And now Canadian restaurateur Joey Ghazal has created a sprawling, dark, glittering brasserie / nightclub in his basement, where one could easily imagine Dita Von Teese swirling in a giant martini glass and where, I told me. they say, there is a VIP room through a hole in the bathroom wall.
There is also a “Tavern”, with brick alcoves extravagantly furnished in red leather and, on the ground floor, a Georgian-style “Drawing Room” which makes you feel like you are on the set. from the Netflix drama Bridgerton, or maybe a Las Vegas hotel called The King George. Of course, it has a yesteryear feel and a strong synthetic aftertaste, although it might have been my chewy cookie dessert (a similar one is available at Pizza Hut) or the big “fish taco.” crisp “rather sloppy in pico de gallo and hot sauce – but more food in an instant. More urgently, much of the living room seating plan requires couples to sit side by side, as if they are riding a self-buffer, which means you end up casting a glare at the other diners. Some restaurateurs seem to think this arrangement is romantic, but it’s just a recipe for a cracked neck and spilled sauce in your mate’s crotch.
The Maine menu is bursting with New England flavors served in the international language of the Soulless Private Club. There are lobster rolls, clam chowder, grilled octopus and soft shell crab with lime aioli; oysters come in many ways; and the bawdy chicken sits next to the now-obligatory dover sole meunière. The room quickly filled with rubber collars checking every table lest Tom Cruise came over for a ceviche, but by 12:30 p.m. there was already a lot missing from the menu, when there seemed to be an almost obligatory visit to the building. visited the diners between courses.
Lunch started with a complimentary hot baguette, but not especially fresh, with a whole bulb of rather bitter roasted garlic and a plate of good quality sliced beef tomatoes with lots of black pepper. We ordered two types of tacos from the hot appetizer menu – the aforementioned ‘crispy’ fish and cauliflower in a tahini vinaigrette which turned out to be a lot of rather tasteless beans and sweetcorn. It’s best to avoid these tacos; no happiness can be found here.
The lobster roll was a sad-looking dry brioche, not too generously filled with lobster meat and lettuce, and came with inedible chips. If I’m being honest, at this point my hopes for the rest of the lunch were not high. Sometimes you just have a feeling.
The staff are an exhilarating mix of inexperienced, hyper-confident and self-assured, delivering postcode history lessons, stopping you mid-order to suggest their own ideas on where you’ve gone wrong. and, excitingly, setting up tests throughout the meal to name the dishes you’ve enjoyed so far. Spoiler: not really any of them.
I ordered a slice of lime pie and ended up with this chewy baked cookie due to the exuberant and cheerful oversold. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the meringue on the pie was both sloppy and grainy. My partner and I shared his alternative: lukewarm batter in a bowl with an extra carafe of chocolate. “It’s the best thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been here,” I said, sponging off the chocolate sauce one of the waiters had insisted on pouring on – and the table – before leaving. never come back. Alcohol free we left around £ 100 less and still hungry.
Maine will be a smash hit though, as it’s ostentatious, star-studded, gorgeous in photographs, and the clientele that will keep it afloat are not really interested in eating. It’s so faux chic that Nicky Haslam probably added it to her list of common things already. There are many, many people who will love it, but as Sartre wrote in No Exit: “Hell is other people”.
The Mayfair of Maine 6 Medici Court, 20 Hanover Square, London W1, 020-3432 2192. Open Tuesday to Saturday from noon to 1 a.m. From around £ 50 per person for three courses, plus drinks and service.