Park Row in Soho: “Behind the mask of playful effects and fancy furnishings is a genuinely memorable meal”
Upon first hearing about Park Row, an immersive Batman-inspired Soho restaurant that has infiltrated Instagram on all levels, I’m more than a little sceptical. While I’m a fan of the DC comics and the Dark Knight series (who doesn’t enjoy a gruff vigilante Christian Bale versus an unhinged Heath Ledger), I’m also wary of gimmicks that get in the way of my food. But bear with me on this one, because behind the mask of playful effects and fancy furnishings is a genuinely memorable meal.
You wouldn’t expect much less than a secret door entrance to a concept that pays homage to a character living perhaps the most notorious double life in fictional history. Even so, when the bookcase swings open in the first room, which is fashioned like the library at Wayne Manor, it’s like an alarm clock for my slumbering inner nerd. This lavish reception area gives way to a dark passage pulsing with moody music, sending guests down a winding, dramatically illuminated staircase to the bat cave. There’s an atmospheric photo opportunity by the bag check – but it’s best discovered rather than described.
Entering the restaurant itself takes us back into Bruce’s world, and though the dress code is smart casual, we are treated like Gotham’s social elite by servers dressed in tuxes and bow ties. They invite us to take a seat in the Iceberg Lounge at the circular counter of the central bar, which surrounds a silver statue of notorious nemesis The Penguin atop a tower of bottles misted in dry ice. Here we try two cocktails, the whisky-based Bludhaven and Beyond the Gates, fashioned from Bacardi, Discarded banana peel rum and lime. The former is pleasant but traditional tipple sweetened slightly with honey, while the latter is a welcome surprise: almost black in colour and more viscous in texture, this intense concoction has a delicious tropical undertone.
Before we sit down to eat at Rogues Gallery, we are ushered over to its most inventive exhibit, the world’s first levitating cocktail molecule. With the help of infrasound technology developed by scientists at UCL, a droplet of booze is held in suspension, which thirsty guests are invited to catch on their tongue. There’s not enough to taste and one can’t help but wonder what life-changing research could have been developed by the same team, but it’s a charming party trick nonetheless.
The food menu also has a few surprises up its sleeve, and browsing the starters in print doesn’t prepare us for the arrival of the physical plates. The first pick is Citrus-Cured Loch Fyne Salmon, carefully garnished with avocado purée, pink grapefruit, breakfast radish and avruga caviar. It’s fresh and zesty, the fish lifted by the sweet fruit and salty roe. However, it’s the veggie alternative truly wows. A Grilled Carrot, Ginger and Sweet Potato Tartare sits beneath a pastry lattice dome, bejewelled with pickled carrots and a Cacklebean egg. The tartare itself is warm and spicy, well-complemented by the snap of the sesame case and the rich yolk.
In comparison, the next courses are pleasing but more conventional. The soft, golden-skinned sea trout comes chaperoned by a trusty entourage of cauliflower, Shetland mussels and black trompette mushrooms. The Orange Blossom Honey-Glazed Lancashire Duck Breast is perfectly pink and heightened by a hearty jus; however the accompanying frisée salad of lardons and confit duck leg lacks oomph. The side dish is more distinct: a generous portion of potato croquettes topped with tender lobster and herb crème fraîche. They aren’t quite as crispy as I’d like, but it’s like eating the world’s most decadent hash browns, so it’s all relative.
Luckily, what the mains are missing in quirky character, the puddings make up for ten times over. The first to arrive is the recommended Kiss from a Rose, a vanilla custard tart decorated with textures of raspberry and rose and finished with lychee ice cream. It involves a theatrical preparation: the waiter dips a red rose in dry ice – rather aptly yet unknowingly inviting me, the Rosie, to kiss the flower – and then crumbles the petals over the dish. The result is a light and floral yet wonderfully creamy treat that serenades the palate. Our second choice, Cask of Balvenie, is served up in a bell jar, which is removed to reveal a beautifully crafted chocolate barrel encasing a whisky-soaked baba, coffee cremeux, smoked caramel and whisky ice-cream. The union of fluffy sponge and cream is tiramisu-esque, but with a more woody, earthy dimension.
A concluding crunchy mouthful of nitrogen popcorn is a fitting metaphor for the meal as a whole: fun, but not at the expense of flavour. While Park Row does certainly come with a price tag, for fans of the franchise, or those who fancy a little whimsy, it might be worth splashing out on a drink with some live music, or a meal imbued with a little movie magic. Failing that, just come for the dessert.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at Park Row, 77 Brewer Street London W1F 9ZN, call or visit their website here.