Usually for me, the food is the key to a great dining experience. Service is very important too, as are location, price and a range of other factors. But the food is paramount.
At Paramount Restaurant, however, the views come first.
And the views are astounding, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, extraordinary, incredible, magnificent, stunning, wondrous… and yes, I swallowed a thesaurus just to try and give you an inkling of how amazing they are.
Located on the 32nd floor of London’s well-known Centre Point building at Tottenham Court Road, Paramount was once a private members club that has decided to open it’s doors to the public as a restaurant, bar and events space.
I’m invited to attend a PR event to celebrate the launch, along with a group of fellow food bloggers.
Arriving early, I’m encouraged to enjoy a drink in the bar area. I ask for my mojito extra sweet; it comes exactly as requested, a refreshing start. The others go for bubbly, which seems fitting on such a glorious summer’s day.
Already, I’m blown away by the views and wish we were sitting nearer a window.
When a few more bloggers have arrived, we are taken upstairs to the 33rd floor, where a floor-to-ceiling glazed viewing gallery runs the entire circumference of Paramount.
360 degrees of London, laid out below!
There gallery has it’s own bar counter and seats – customers can enjoy drinks and bar snacks in the relative peace of the gallery itself.
The views are utterly intoxicating.
I feel the oddest sensation – a surge of warmth for my home town, a rush of affection aroused by this bird’s eye view over it’s cluttered streets of brick and stone and concrete and glass, it’s historic churches and modern office blocks, it’s lines and patches of leafy green, it’s public spaces and secret corners, and by the silent-movie motion of buses, cars and people racing about their daily business down below.
I can’t stop grinning.
We make our way around. I want to go again but reluctantly, I drag myself away from the spectacular panorama. We are taken back downstairs to the main floor of the restaurant and seated in The Red Room, a private room within the restaurant that can seat up to 24.
It’s a funky space, designed (as is the whole place) by Tom Dixon, former head of design for Habitat. Me, I still can’t take my eyes away from the view and have to apologise repeatedly to my dining companions for trailing off mid-sentence or drifting away when they are talking to me.
From the special set menu I order warm salad of quail, confit potato, green beans, walnut and pancetta to start, followed by trio of pork with celeriac puree, fondant potato and ginger sauce.
Before the starters, we’re served an amuse bouche of asparagus and tarragon soup, rich and creamy with whole pieces of asparagus, it’s a nice start. With it come plates of bread and oil for sharing, though as they have different types of bread, I’d rather have them come around with a basket and offer each diner a choice.
When my starter of salad of quail, confit potato, green beans, walnut and pancetta arrives, it’s a generous portion, plated in a somewhat retro tower. The various flavours and textures balance well, everything is well cooked, I enjoy it.
The other starters go down well. I taste the summer truffle and sweet pea risotto, coddled hen’s egg and it’s good and has shavings of truffle on top for good measure. The smoked haddock and lentil chowder with lemon oil is declared rich, tasty and rather special. And from the opposite side of the table, I hear very positive noises about the double baked roquefort soufflé.
The trio of pork with celeriac puree, fondant potato and ginger sauce looks even more retro (read, dated) than the starter, in terms of presentation. On one hand, I am a lover of restaurants that allow me to taste lots of different dishes – dim sum, tapas, mezze and more. On the other, I haven’t seen such a penchant for duos of this, trios of that since the late 1990s. Oh, and can I not count or are there four distinct porky offerings, not three? There is nothing wrong with the individual elements but none are exceptional either. Overall, this dish is a little disappointing.
Feedback on both the sea bass with potato gnocchi, asparagus, samphire and caviar cream and the five spiced monkfish with saffron risotto and crab spring roll is good, in both cases the fish is deftly cooked and well balanced by the accompanying flavours and textures.
I’m not entirely convinced by my neighbour’s butternut squash and sage tortellini with wilted greens – whilst it tastes good, it’s a little dry and, frankly, boring after a bite or two.
A pre-dessert of strawberry and rasperry jelly with meringue is intriguing though I wouldn’t rush to have it again. The jelly bursts liquid in the mouth, which is novel, though I don’t particularly like the sensation.
My dessert of walnut tart, cider sorbet, pink lady apple strudel with ginger custard is the most disappointing of all the dishes I taste during the night. The sorbet is the best thing on the plate, the walnut tart is alright, the other elements are so-so at best. And worst of all, to me, they all clash dreadfully – there’s no harmony or balance at all. It seems like a desperate attempt to thrust too many things at the customer, perhaps in the mistaken belief that more is more; I don’t know. But it’s quite a disappointment.
Judging from the highlights of the meal, head chef Colin Layfield (who worked with owner Pierre Condou previously, at L’Odeon) has what it takes to produce food to an excellent standard. The two main problems for me are lack of consistency and a somewhat dated approach.
With starters from £8.50 to £13.50 and mains between £14.50 and £25.50 the food isn’t as good as London’s best in the same price range.
But given these views, I’m not sure that it needs to be.
Certainly, I’m contemplating at least one return visit to share with loved ones the exhilaration of those tremendous views.
I leave you with the words of Jasper Gerard in his review for The Telegraph: