28 Oct 2008

Vanity vs. Sanity: The Alienating Island

AMBASSADE DE l’Ille’ is striking, beautiful and immaculate. Picture an elegant Edwardian library façade, with a chic Italian furniture showroom behind it. An odd union, but it works. Careful, cardinal purple lighting smoothly illuminates white leather seating and panels, contrasting with amusing, tactile shag-pile and dark, urbane blinds. In the loos, fountains glow in a rainbow of colours. In the little lounge, what looks like a stainless steel seat (which I nearly sat on) is actually a low trellis of fire.
Plasma screens are a quirky, but well-intentioned aperture into the kitchen. A live feed into your food. Two shelves of battered, fading Michelin guides are the only tomes in this former place of books, and it almost goes without saying, clearly signal chef's intent. An authority on London restaurants described these as being 'like those leather bound books gentrified pubs have - apparently they are all glued together and you buy them by the yard...'
Incidentally, Morgan Meunier is another chef who used to display the Michelin bibles (before he grew out of nappies).
Jean-Christophe Ansannay Alex already has two Michelin stars for his Lyonnais restaurant, l’Auberge de l’Ile. One critic described him as one of ‘…the most under-rated two star holders…’ Come January, he may well garner a couple more in Blighty (equating to one per name).
And that would be a profound disgrace.
The reasons? -Glacial service and astonishing food, which neither my friend, nor I could engage with.
From the Lyonnais menu, a giant quenelle of (may contain) Pike (above, third picture) was served on a slippery frond of Spinach (as if squashed to death) with tomatoey Sauce Nantua and a homeopathic trace of Crayfish. Apart from looking like a pasty administered growth enhancing George’s Marvellous Medicine, it had the texture of street soiled mattress and left a sour, almost metallic aftertaste. Filling rather than thrilling - and I am sorry to say this - what little of it I ate shot through me.
A giblet of moussed cheese which looked like a mouse made a mockery. It was saddled by chive ears and joined by a dolls house portion of St. Marcellin and weedy mesclun.
Dessert from the former world dessert champion, Pascal Molines justified his victory as being very much in the past tense. A thin triangle of gharish, jammy flan served on a greasy plate.
With coffee, patronising popcorn came dusted with raspberry sugar.
Give me strength.
Whilst I suspect they could do better, it feels as if Ansannay Alex exists in his own world. The fact that he left his insulated kitchen to tour the padded restaurant said much for the thickness of his hyde. Had he not registered the still heaving plates returning to the wash-up?
Fate requires little provocation. If Ambassade continues with this estranging tunnel vision, the credit crunch will Pacman his little, lavishly priced imported Lyonnais island unto oblivion...
'Ambassade de l’Ille' - 117-119 Old BromptonRd. SW7 3RN. T. 020 7373 7774
Nearest Tube: Gloucester Rd.

Ambassade de L'Ile on Urbanspoon
Also pictured, 'artpress 2', a billingual gastronimically inclined glossy filled with sharp photography and lucid essays, which unlike Ambassade, proves style and substance can co-exist. My friend, Valerie, sent the issue from Paris, marking the most interesting articles with leaf stars. A classy gesture. Last year she sent me six strands of central park...