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Arts Brasserie, Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Piccadilly: the review

Flic Everett flies above the city to a floating motorway service station

Published on February 4th 2010.

Arts Brasserie, Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Piccadilly: the review

About ten years ago, I remember going to the opening of the Arts Brasserie in the Ramada Piccadilly hotel. There was a swirly carpet and magicians, and quite possibly an accompanying press release promising a brave new dawn in stylish contemporary cuisine. I haven’t been since- but a quick glance at the website suggested that the swirly carpet is still there, although the magicians and contemporary cuisine have long gone.

The brasserie is on the third floor, next to a vast bar- which was, on the night we visited, hosting a conference for a business called Kinetics, which seemed to employ lots of women in sequinned tops. Somebody took my photo as I walked in, then I had to explain that we didn’t deserve a free drink, because we weren’t delegates.

So, mildly embarrassed, we scuttled into the restaurant. Curtained off from the bar by brown swathes, but connected by the ubiquitous swirly carpet, it’s like every hotel restaurant you’ve ever seen, with furnishings chosen from the secret IKEA catalogue of neutral global business taste. It’s very brown, basically.

The view, however, would be interesting, if it wasn’t partially concealed by a greyish curtain resembling a Blackpool landlady’s hairnet. Piccadilly Gardens lies spread before you - on this occasion, a snowy waste, people by hunched, Lowry-like figures, slouching past the great concrete wall to the bus station. I quite liked the feeling that we’d just travelled through time and space to East Berlin, 1988. This ‘liking’ screeched to a halt, however, when we opened the menus.

Humous and Pitta

Now, I know most of the clientele are businessmen on expense accounts, who just want to get some stodge inside them before sinking a raft of brandies in the bar with JD and the boys from Global Initiatives. But £12 for a goat’s cheese salad? As my husband remarked, “It should be called the bloody Dick Turpin Brasserie.” And that was before the £11 pasta, the £4 olives, and the £18 steak. Bear in mind that a short walk across Piccadilly Gardens brings you to Michael Caine’s Abode, home to some of the city’s best food, at roughly comparable prices.

So it’s a shame that most of the Arts Brasserie’s offering is exactly what you’d find at a service station with pretensions.

The menu, too, is everything you’d expect from a menu designed to appeal to a jet-lagged, multicultural clientele at 4am, ranging from muffins to nachos via rib-eye steak, ciabattas, chickpea curry, fried rice and vanilla panacotta. If you bombed the Arndale food market, you’d probably get a similar collision buried under the rubble. We may as well have spun a pointer and ordered whatever it landed on.

Instead, we ordered two large glasses of red. Simon had Montelpulciano D’Abruzzu at an eye-watering £6.30, which was appropriate, given that the wine itself was equally eye-watering. And not in a ‘tears of joy’ way. My Rioja Crianza Vina Alcorta (£7.20- was it bottled by virgins coated in gold leaf?) tasted like the wine you open when there’s nothing else left. The list of wines by the glass dodged all over the globe, so perhaps we should have tried a New World one instead.

The waiter was new, and slightly confused. “Hummus and pitta, please,” I said. “Cheese wedges, yes,” he agreed. He meant well, and he did bring my pitta and Simon’s deep fried butterfly prawns with mango mayonnaise (£6.50). This all sounds quite delicate and pretty- it was not.

Four anorexic prawns had been on a pissed night out, fallen into a deep fat fryer and crawled out, only to find themselves newly threatened by a pot of cheap moisturiser. I just wanted to send them home to sleep it off.

RisottoButterfly Prawns

My £4 hummus was exactly as it promised. A small pot of hummus. A piece of pitta. The end. I know garnish can be unnecessary and silly, but this was post-revolutionary hummus, after the workers have banished all frivolity. A piece of parsley would probably have been shot.

After a grim twenty minute wait, watching East Berlin from the window, the mains arrived. My £11 risotto of asparagus, mint and garden peas (where else are you going to get peas? The desert?) tasted entirely of cream and oil. Texturally, to be fair, it was bang on. Taste-wise, it was like a tin of Campbell’s soup - there was no seasoning, no flair, nothing except a big pool of cream it didn’t need, drowning the subtle flavours of the vegetables like a school bully in the swimming pool.

Simon’s chicken with sautéed leeks, crushed new potatoes and mushroom sauce sounded great- but it must be noted that balancing things in an acrobatic tower doesn’t make them taste better. The sauce had been on the pass too long and was congealed, the potatoes were too big and unseasoned, and the leeks were chewy. “Chicken’s Ok, though,” he said, manfully battling on. At £16.50 it should have been singing “Mammy” and doing a tap dance.

Panacotta and Pineapple

I’d given up by now. My disappointment had already shot up the pole and rung the bell at the top. But purely out of curiosity, we ordered the vanilla panacotta with chamomile and mint pineapple. It sounded like pudding scrabble, where the chef threw all his ingredients in the air and made a dessert out of what landed near his feet- but it turned out we were wrong.

The panacotta, despite being on the large side, was entirely edible, creamy and sweet, while the chamomile and mint gave the pineapple an unexpectedly delicate little aftertaste. It was like going for tea with fairies, and none the worse for it.

It was almost worth the £5.25, just to have our faith briefly restored.

Let’s be kind- they had a big corporate do on. The waiter tried hard. The view was interesting. But would I go back? I’d sooner go on a night out with the deep-fried prawns.

Chicken with sautéed leeks
Rating: 9/20
Breakdown: 4/10 food
4/5 service
2/5 (for the view) ambience/td>
Address: Ramada Piccadilly Hotel
Portland Street
M1 4PH
click here

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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GoggleFebruary 4th 2010.

How nice to be reading Flic again. A great review this, Flic is bang on with it. Funny an' all.

GrizzlyFebruary 4th 2010.

I agree good review, well written, but did we really expect anything else from a review of a large chain hotel than to arrive at the conclusion that they generally serve mass produced crap in a souless enviroment? What next "George Best liked a drink!"

GoggleFebruary 5th 2010.

Grizzly, I would like to think the buggers would actually take some pride every now and again; Weirdly, that french group with a hotel opposite the McD's and Kentucky on the road going towards the motorway through Salford is pretty good as it happens.

AgricolaFebruary 8th 2010.

It's so sad that this place is so bad

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