The launch of new restaurant Buddha-Bar London at 145 Knightsbridge
Following hot on the heels of Paris, Monte Carlo, Kiev, and Dubai, London too can now boast its own Buddha-Bar at 145 Knightsbridge. The Raymond Visan enterprise first began in Paris in 1996, and claims to bring the best of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fashion and design together beneath a single roof. We were invited to the oh-so-exclusive “Yelloween” launch party on 31st October to get a taste of what Buddha-Bar London has to offer.
But firstly: “Yelloween”? Presumably it was a nod to the Yellow Label Verve Clicquot champagne circulating freely all night, but coming from a bar serving Pan-Asian cuisine and openly marketing its Asian “exoticism” (more on that later) they can’t possibly have been unaware of the tasteless double entendre. Regardless, the venue was packed and clearly a popular choice amongst London’s corporate socialites. On entry, we were handed beribboned eye-masks (which people seemed to be wearing on top of their heads, or not at all) and waved through.
With an upstairs bar, downstairs restaurant and mezzanine reception area, Buddha-Bar is slightly overwhelming at first glance. The floating geometric features and precise lines are broken by the writhing of two crystal-beaded dragon chandeliers flanking the grand staircase, and the gentle curves of benevolent Buddhas smiling peacefully over the heads of the clientele. The bar upstairs stretches the length of the room. Dining tables, comfortable chairs and elbow-height benches abound. Huge glass windows overlooking Knightsbridge are semi-screened by sheer shiny curtains. The downstairs features a number of alcoves and semi-private dining areas for larger bookings. And one rather unfortunate design feature: each step on the staircase features strips of lit-up flower tessellations on its vertical face. The head-spinning double vision effect as you walk up is frankly nauseating – and this was long before we’d touched the champagne.
Miniaturised versions of Buddha-Bar’s culinary offerings circulated all night for guests to sample. Tiny wooden bowls, cones and spoons containing salads, sushi and mouthfuls of mains gave us a window on the menu and at least an idea of its overall quality. There was some unexceptional sushi (we tried the tuna, salmon, and cucumber with spicy mayo varieties) – perfectly enjoyable, but we’ve had better in far humbler establishments. The Wakame and Cucumber Salad with sesame and daikon dressing was nice and light – the seaweed wasn’t too rubbery and the cucumber pieces added a crisp crunch. The Green Papaya Salad seemed to be chasing us all night; we were offered about seven bowls. Nor was it particularly successful, overwhelmed with chilli and lacking any depth of flavour in the dressing.
We managed to taste two signature dishes: the Wok-Fried Beef and the Chicken Salad. The chicken was warm and succulent, but the beef was dry and generically flavoured. Some prawns also found their way to our table. They were plump, moist, and bursting with buttery garlic flavours. There was no sign of Buddha-Bar’s advertised specialties: Venison Tataki, Smoked Duck and Foie Gras Gyoza, or Dragon Scallop and Pan Fried Sea Bass with Shiso Butter. Nor of the desserts – but perhaps we left too early.
The online menu has no mention of price, so we can’t comment on value for money – but we can safely say that diners looking for high-quality Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese cuisine would do much better at a different venue. And after spending a few hours absorbing their much-touted atmosphere of “East-meets-West style”, we can also say that almost anyone looking for an opulent night out could do better elsewhere. The whole venue smacks of a generic “orientalism” co-opted for the purpose of cashing in on an aura of “exoticism” in place of creating something truly original. From the broad brushstrokes of the Pan-Asian menu to the use of music and artifacts harvested from all over Asia and completely severed from their cultural context (particularly the gross overuse of Buddha figures throughout the bar), Buddha-Bar comes across as a venue with far too much money and a slight deficiency in taste.
Photos: Paul Winch-Furness
Buddha-Bar is at 145 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7PA. For more information, or to make a reservation, click here.