As a restaurant reviewer, you encounter all sorts of bores. There are organic produce bores, all-ingredients-must-be-properly-sourced bores, anti-farmed salmon bores... There are even bores who maintain that food critics should have some expertise about the subject they're writing about, if you can believe it. But the biggest bores of all--the ones who really take the organic, properly-sourced biscuit--are those who insist that restaurants should only serve food when it's in season.
Gary Rhodes--"chef, restaurateur, celebrity and author", to quote his website--is one of the worst offenders in this category. Ignoring two of the most important inventions of the last millennia, namely the jet engine and the deep freeze, Rhodes insists that all food served in his restaurants must be both locally grown and in season. "I won't allow asparagus on the menu in any of my restaurants apart from during May to June, when it's in season," he says. "That way, it's a treat for our guests and makes it a little more special from their point of view."
Not all of Rhodes's guests appreciate such special treatment. A couple of years ago he was forced to close down City Rhodes and Rhodes In The Square, in spite of their Michelin stars, and in 2000 his Edinburgh restaurant, Rhodes and Co, was hit by a scandal it never recovered from when it was revealed that he was serving frozen chips. Presumably, he only included these delicacies on the menu during the Scottish potato season.
So far, at least, Rhodes Twenty Four, his new restaurant in the City, is proving a hit. Situated on the 24th floor of Tower 42, London's tallest building, it's almost as hard to get a table at as the Ivy. Even after you've secured a reservation, getting in is far from easy. You have to go to a counter on the first floor, hand over your details and then pass through an airport-style magnometer. The whole procedure takes at least five minutes so you'd be well-advised to factor that in if you're meeting an important business contact.
Not surprisingly, after you've gone through check-in you end up in something closely resembling an airport lounge. In spite of having spectacular views of the whole of London, Rhodes Twenty Four manages to be a little on the bland side. The décor is deliberately minimalist and understated, as though wanting to conjure up the executive dining room of some faceless global corporation, and this impression is confirmed by the large numbers of middle-aged men in suits. Rhodes Twenty Four is not somewhere anyone is likely to come to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary.
According to the website, "Rhodes Twenty Four's core value is Very British Fare" which presumably means it serves British food. Sure enough, Gary Rhodes's signature dish, roly-poly pudding with lashings of custard, takes pride of place on the menu. I opt for a lobster and cheese omelette, followed by pan fried skate wing with langoustines. Both are okay, but nothing special. My companion has slightly better luck with his pork faggots and roast duck--not together, I should point out--though he, too, isn't overly impressed. Rather daringly, I decide to have a Jaffa Cake pudding, in spite of the fact that Jaffa Oranges aren't in season. To give credit where credit's due, it's easily the best part of my lunch.
Perhaps I'm being a little unfair on Rhodes Twenty Four. I find it hard to separate the restaurant from the man, whom I've always regarded as supremely irritating, and, clearly, some people think it's very impressive. In the current Michelin Red Guide, for instance, Rhodes Twenty Four gets a very positive write-up and is awarded a star, one of only 36 restaurants in London to enjoy that privilege. The prices certainly reflect this elevated status. Our meal for two, which included two glasses of wine for me and two beers for my companion, came to £124.82.
Gary Rhodes's most recent venture is a restaurant on board P & O's latest cruise liner. I wonder if he'll constantly change the menu, ensuring that it only includes produce that is in season in the country the ship happens to be passing. Somehow, I doubt it.