Owner Juan Santa Cruz in front of his new restaurant, Casa Cruz. Photo courtesy of the internet. 2015.
123 Clarendon Road
London W11 4JG
Design: 3 stars
Atmosphere: 3.5 stars
Service: 3 stars
Food: 3.75 stars
Price/Value: 3.5 stars
Overall: 3.5 stars
Bowler man. NHYM 2015.
The first thing that struck me as I arrived at this new restaurant on Clarendon Road, was the large imposing copper door that I mistook for a vault door rather than the entrance. In front stood a bowler-hatted gentlemen who opened the door for me. I was confused, having used a different entrance in all the various incarnations of this restaurant; Wiz (or Woz?), which served a mishmash of international plates, The Notting Grill by Anthony Worrall Thompson (which sadly closed during the recession), and the Clarendon, a Gastropub which was too loud to hear yourself speak and where I would often run into Nico, Pippa Middleton’s on-off boyfriend. This spot has a long restaurant history, which has all ended in closure, so hats off to Juan Santa Cruz if he can make this a long-standing success.
Photo courtesy of the internet 2015.
First off, we’ve really got to talk about the design. It’s owner, Juan Santa Cruz, former banker/private equity/finance guy turned restaurateur/designer, already made his mark in Argentina with three restaurants including the original Casa Cruz. In this version of Casa Cruz, there is an avalanche of copper than landed in the middle of W11. Not sure what it’s doing here, but it is everywhere. The bar, the walls, the doors and anywhere else you happen to look. The walls are panels of copper, on top of alternating wood panels, which are backlit.
Photo courtesy of the intent. NHYM 2015.
Friends have likened it to an S&M room where this could be Christian Grey’s Copper Room next to his Red Room. Another friend called it a crash between Stringfellows and a chalet. Ok sure, Chile is the number one exporter of copper (where Santa Cruz is from), but too much is too much. I liked the two bars, that had enough copper on their own for the whole restaurant. The art deco tables downstairs are very nice, as are the Hermes-leather-boud menus. Then there is the mirrored staircase, which takes you back to the days of Mirror Mazes in fun fairs. Not an experience I particularly want to revisit. Thankfully, the upstairs terrace gives you a breather from the copper and the mirrors, where I saw the whole cast of ‘Wannabe-Made-In-Chelsea’ having a birthday party.
Stag’s head Ground Floor Casa Cruz. NHYM 2015.
Service & Atmosphere
Then there is the Stag’s head staring at you on the ground floor, not sure what it adds to the room, but adds to the ‘chalet feel’ of the place. The restaurant isn’t full when we arrived at 9pm despite being told that there were no earlier seatings before 9:30pm on a Saturday night. This is a restaurant which should be fully booked and every spot taken to create a buzzing and cool atmosphere. Instead, I feel duped by the reservations team who told me there were no earlier seatings. Needless to say, we were seated at 9pm which suited me much better than 9:30pm. (This happened to me another time during the week when they gave me a 9pm reservation, but the restaurant was half full when I arrived at 8:30pm). Maybe this is because I heard that this was originally meant to be a member’s club as well, with one of the only perks being that members could get a table at any time they wanted. I just don’t like being lied to, so this just bugs me.
Photo courtesy of NHYM 2015.
I liked the look of the menu, but it was rather simple and concise. The starters consisted heavily of raw food. We tried the sea bass carpaccio with lime, but truthfully, Nobu or Roka could give the chef a tip or two on how to choose and season it. It was chewier than the divine sea bass sashimi at either of these restaurants, leaving me pining for the Roka sea bass sashimi. It’s never good when you are coveting another restaurant’s food. The other vegetables and burrata starters were fine. Nothing out-of-this-world, but decent nonetheless.
As mains, we opted for the Steak. I mean, it’s an Argentinian restaurant right? The portions are quite big so are good for sharing. Happily, we all enjoyed the steak and even ordered an extra portion. I hear that the blackened chicken is also quite good. As sides, we tried the blackened broccoli, which is usually quite good, but I once had it with too much chilli and flavours that clashed with the tenderness of the steak. The quinoa side also had too many flavours mixed in, which I felt took away from the main dish. I liked the corn, but it also had quite strong flavours. The point of sides is to accompany, not overpower. I felt that these sides tended to overpower rather than let the mains do the talking. This is not finessed cuisine, but Argentinian cuisine isn’t necessarily known for that. Finally, as a dessert, I had the dulce de leche ice-cream, which I really enjoyed.
Very cool wine fridge. Courtesy of the internet NHYM 2015.
We ran into different groups of friends the Saturday night we went, who had enjoyed their meal. Still, the copper-tone feel to the place is overwhelming, as were some of the flavours. There were some things that worked, and some things that just didn’t. It still seems disjointed and is trying a little too hard to feel exclusive. I think if it was full of people having fun, the atmosphere could be improved. The food is good at times, but not good enough to be the strength of the restaurant. Rumours have it that Juan Santa Cruz wanted the atmosphere first, and the food was secondary. Unfortunately, I think he hasn’t managed either well enough to make it somewhere I am dying to go back to. It still has some potential, so hopefully he will make some important changes that could make it much cooler and much yummier.