This week, our critic enjoys the food – and a jewel-encrusted Pegasus – in Selfridges
William Sitwell visits Selfridges’ Brasserie of Light
YOU MAY NOT have come across Richard Caring, but I have sat adjacent to him. I was in the harbour of Portofino on the Italian Riviera having a drink when he arrived with his lapdog and entourage at a neighbouring table. Caring made money in fashion and then moved into property and restaurants. He owns a number of famous establishments, including Le Caprice and the nightclub Annabel’s, and one of his latest ventures is the Brasserie of Light, a sparkling, twinkling palace of chandeliers and mirrors at the London department store Selfridges.
I reflected on Mr Caring as I pondered some words of his, released to a grateful public on the opening of the BOL at the end of last year. The text was bold, absolute: ‘When you think of the capital city of the world you think of London. When you think of London you think of Selfridges.’
I thought of him conceiving these words. A la Churchill perhaps, as portrayed in Darkest Hour: Caring yells out the lines as he steps out of the bath; sitting outside on the stairs is a flunkie scribbling frantically on a notepad. Or maybe he’s in his dressing room, in front of the mirror. The butler has eased a dinner jacket on to Caring’s shoulders and is dusting down the collars as the boss adjusts his bow tie. ‘When you think of London,’ he says, pausing to flick back a few wisps of his thick grey bouffant, ‘you think of Selfridges.’ There’s a flash of white teeth. ‘Whaddya think, Jeeves?’ he
says. ‘Most stirring, sir,’ replies the butler. ‘Indeed, if I may say so, sir, singularly unequivocal.’
In fact, I suppose what really happened was Caring was sitting at his desk when his PR came in seeking approval for a press release and the boss just waved it off without reading: ‘I’m sure it’s fine, just get it out there.’
Whatever the truth, here I am at my desk thinking of Selfridges and the Brasserie of Light, and I think of Pegasus, for you can’t miss her in the restaurant. She is the sensational creation of artist Damien Hirst. With a wingspan of 30ft, her crystal-encrusted frame is poised, mid-flight, opposite a vast window. The best time to see her is at night, as you enter the main restaurant from the bar, because her reflection appears in the window like a mystical hologram. She sparkles, the mirrored walls sparkle back, the lights twinkle and the tabletops, also mirrors, do their bit too. Yet the effect is ethereal and calm, like Pegasus herself.
The menu is big and blowsy, like an all-day brasserie’s should be, except every dish has bells, or should I say crystals, on. So the sourdough is salt-crusted, the pumpkin soup is ironbark (I don’t know what that is either), the dressing for the crab is lobster, the chicken dumpling comes with truffle… you get the picture.
I went for tuna carpaccio, which came in a citrus ponzu dressing. Actually, let’s say swimming in, or washed away in a flood of… The tangy sauce simply became the dish. But the tuna was good, with rich dollops of wasabi mayo and some crunchy deep-fried stuff scattered on top. We shared some excellent zucchini fritti too. The courgette sliced beautifully thin, with light batter fried in fresh oil, so they achieved that perfect degree of moreish crunch with just a hint of grease. A far cry from the worst type of Italian restaurant where the courgette is thickly chopped, fried in old oil that lingers in the mouth, and you almost need Swarfega to get it off your fingers. My spaghettini with lobster was similarly accomplished. The chilli and garlic didn’t drown the soft, buttery lobster, which had been cooked to tender greatness.
I then went nuts on your behalf and ordered the ‘chocolate bubble’, a mixture of mousse, brownie, chocolate pearls and milk ice cream that could have been a little too Ben & Jerry’s for a posh gaff like this. In fact, it was an elegant lucky dip. Crunchy chocolate ‘bubble wrap’ studded with chocolate pearls surfed on the softest mousse, lightly sprinkled with texturally perfect choccy ‘soil’. The brownie was not too rich, and the whole thing was cooled further by the ice cream.
I also found an old friend on the wine menu – an assyrtico from the Greek island of Santorini. If you like the idea of a subtle chardonnay-type grape, which grows through volcanic dust, whose circular vines are doused in the fresh and salty mist of the Cretan Sea, order a bottle before you declare in your most thespian voice, ‘Is that a mythical flying horse I see before me?’
We shared some excellent zucchini fritti. They achieved that perfect degree of moreish crunch
Brasserie of Light Selfridges400 Oxford Street London W1A 1AB 020-3940 9600 brasserie-of-light.co.uk Star rating Dinner for two £90 excluding drinks and service
The chocolate bubble Below
Tuna carpaccio in a citrus ponzu dressing. Above