" I think this is a charming island that is waiting to be discovered by a few more people."Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
On a rainy, cold Friday when you really don’t want to go out and battle the elements you need a relaxed, tranquil island of warmth that’s close to the centre of town providing good, unpretentious food where you don’t have to dress up and where you can take a work colleague, a couple of mates or even your latest romantic interest.
Turn right as you leave Lancaster Gate tube and literally a few steps along you come to Island Restaurant and Bar. The ultra modern, cool exterior makes it look a little bit intimidating and the small, reception desk just inside the front door (which was empty when we went) doesn’t make you feel too welcomed.
However, persevere because just up a few beautiful grey slate steps and you are greeted by one of the incredibly friendly and courteous staff. There was a bit of faffing around as we tried to decide when and where to remove our coats, umbrellas and numerous other bags but it was all dealt with and we were given little cloakroom tags neatly made in the colour and shape of restaurant logo. It’s the little things that count…
Interior and ambience
Anyway, in the last remains of daylight (of which there is a lot as the windows are floor to ceiling) and if you are seated in one of the upper levels (which is through the open plan bar) at the front of the restaurant you can look over the leafy greenness of Hyde Park. We choose to remain on the lower level and peered out over a rain soaked Lancaster Terrace. We spied a few groups of up market tourists, a group of three girls, young modern couples, a group of four people who were older out of towners, one young (and rather attractive) guy eating alone with just his laptop for company and a family.
As daylight faded the place transformed with inbuilt ceiling lights subtly radiating changing colours from the pink and lilac spectrum which made the aubergine columns and wall décor look much warmer and more sophisticated than its daylight persona. I don’t often take much notice of tableware (except to check I have a knife and fork) but the modern curves of the metal napkin holders and bread “basket” insisted on grabbing my attention. Nice.
As the evening wore on, more couples appeared…
The cocktail menu is extensive. And surprisingly for this chic island within a stone’s throw of expensive Notting Hill they were reasonably priced – nine champagne cocktails (all at £7.50), then over 40 short and long drinks, classic and martini cocktails (ranging from £6 to £7.50) and an incredible further few pages of just about even brand and make of spirit, liqueur and a few beers. My colleague sampled a Black Cow Ice Tea which was a kind of grown up fizzy white chocolate with a bit of a kick.
The French maitre d’ was replaced with a warm knowledgeable Spanish waitress who didn’t rush us but checked that we were OK on a regular (but not annoying) basis. It makes a big difference when the staff are happy and seem genuinely pleased to be able to help.
We ordered a bottle of Villa Maria unoaked chardonnay (£28) which wasn’t quite cold enough but drinkable just the same. The wine selection was reasonable with a fair few bottles around the £16-£19 and a couple of others in the £30 bracket.
The menu is quite short but I still found myself torn between a number of the options. For starters I choose the beef carpaccio (£8.50) simply presented with a couple of rocket leaves, curls of parmesan and truffle oil)) and my vegetarian colleague opted for the buffalo mozzarella (£7.50 which came on a bed of tomato, fennel, red onion and olives – as well as a more surprising caper berry). The starters were huge – I don’t think I have ever seen such a large piece of mozzarella - so hungry men need not fear teeny, tiny portions here.
Our main courses were steamed fillet of bream which was presented on a delicious and bold tasting brown shrimp risotto (£16.50) and beer battered fish with hand cut chips (£14) which came with pureed peas and tartare sauce. I think the fish was cod and whilst it didn’t do much for me, my colleague “loved it” with the fabulous light batter. We choose sides of green beans (£3 - nicely crisp but couldn’t detect the promised shallots) and a lovely mixed leaf salad with walnut oil and parmesan (£3.50).
Yet real men have no fear – the menu has a grill section with a couple of steaks on it (£24.50 to £29.50) as well as burgers (£12). There were also lamb, salmon, chicken and a couple of pasta/risottos dishes to choose from.
As a result of the generous portions, we were only up for one dessert between us and tried the tropical fruits (£5.50) which were smothered in a creamy lime sauce and the coffee (and dark chocolates) was great.
The location and the sophisticated décor led me to expect something rather more cool and uptight than what island has to offer. And I admit that I usually (with a couple of notable exceptions) steer clear of restaurants associated with hotels. But the lovely staff, incredible service and serene but warm modern atmosphere – alongside generous portions of well cooked food (that only nods to its British positioning) - were a pleasant surprise and I am sure, if you are a later diner, the crowd – whilst continuing to be eclectic – morphs into a slightly edgier and younger set. I think this is a charming island that is waiting to be discovered by a few more people. But please let me know your views.
KimT reviewed Island Restaurant & Bar on Mon 08 Sep 2008