Am I Being Intemperate? Hardly!
Being ever so careful that I offer a balanced blog, allowing other opinions - assuming they are broadly in agreement with mine - I'm taking the liberty of posting a review of the London Buddha Bar by Jay Rayner who had to go as part of his job. Fortunately, I have the choice of not going.
Clumsy, pricey and tasteless, Buddha Bar is enough to test the serenity of a deity, says Jay Rayner.
One of the curiosities of this week's restaurant - along with 'How do they live with themselves?' and 'Why isn't there a baying mob outside with pitchforks and burning torches?' - is that it should be named after a deity whose followers are famed for their serenity and yet should be capable of engendering in me such a blind, raging, spittle-flecked fury. There will be casualties in the restaurant trade as a result of the current economic turmoil; I sincerely hope London's Buddha Bar is one of them.
I should have given up after the hassle of booking. Not merely the five minutes of thrashing hold music nor the irritating demand for my first name (and my usual reply that I only wanted to book a table, not be their pen friend), but also the requirement that I supply an email address. Why? 'Because it's the only way we can confirm you have a reservation.' Really? So putting the name down in a book, the method that's worked for a century or more, isn't good enough? Absolutely not, for when the email arrives it reveals that any table booked before 10pm must be given back within two hours and that, while there is a bar, they don't guarantee you'll be allowed in to it. There is a particular word I could use here, but I refuse to denigrate the honest pleasures of self-abuse purely to make a point.
The London Buddha Bar is part of an international chain. Previously I visited the outpost in Dubai and was struck there by the late middle age of the male clientele, and the oestrogen-rich youth of their friends, who were doubtless their nieces. Here, as there, hedge fund-sized buckets of cash have been spent on filling an empty space (under Waterloo Bridge) with gargantuan Asian artefacts and then turning the lights down so low you can't see any of them. The only one you can see is the enormous Buddha; even as a diehard, to-the-barricades atheist I find the exploitation of a religious symbol like this offensive. There is just enough light by which to read the pan-Asian menu, which was a shame, because it meant we could order.
The food is that killer combination of stupendously clumsy and grossly overpriced. £10 worth of wok-fried salt and pepper calamari and frog's legs was leathery, greasy and unrelenting. The only contrast came from the frog's legs, which promised a little light haemorrhage as the hidden bones punctured your mouth. Worse, and £5 more expensive, was the crayfish and crawfish summer roll, speaking gloomily of an Icelandic summer of wind and rain and general hardship: flavourless crayfish, mushy avocado, dull shredded carrots. The rice-based wrap was so dry as to be edible, but only if you had no choice. We did, so we didn't.
Next, some sushi: £3 a piece, minimum order two pieces. I looked at the unglossy lozenge of tuna. I ran my finger along its edge. It was hard, as if it had been cut long before being plated. Eel and turbot were lifeless. Of the main courses the most cynical was £26 for a meagre portion of Korean seared beef, tender but tasteless, then smeared with a pungent - read unpleasant - tomato sauce. In an attempt to complete the tour of Asia we also had a Thai-style red curry with shrimp, and it was indeed in the style of a Thai curry much as Zimbabwe is in the style of a democracy. The small shrimps - seven of them for £16.50 - were served mixed in with rice inside the husk of a coconut, with the slick of red curry sauce in a saucer on the side. I genuinely do not understand how any self-respecting kitchen can serve up trash like this, at these prices, and still find the will to get up in the morning.
And so to dessert, 'the best part of the meal' as the waiter said. We live in hope, I replied. Only to have it dashed, for the Buddha Bar is where hope, like the ingredients, goes to die. A chocolate fondue for £12.50 - sorry to go on about the prices, but really - brought something congealing in a bowl, without a burner to keep it moving, some friable, dusty meringues, a couple of crumbly biscuits of the sort that are served after Jewish funerals and a little flavour-free fruit.
Was there anything to recommend the place? Yes, our waiter, who was cheerful and efficient and completely wasted here. Save yourself, my friend. Get a job elsewhere. You don't deserve this. And frankly, neither did we.
8 Victoria Embankment, London WC2
Meal for two, including wine and service £175.