You could be forgiven for thinking that this summer was the season of restaurant gimmicks – a time when everything on the menu must be prefixed with bronze, silver or gold, and when the name of a sport manages to creep into every dish. It’s almost as if there’s a big international event going on which they’re not allowed to officially reference.
If taking the concept and running with it is the aim of the game, then 1901 in Liverpool Street’s Andaz Hotel must be favourite to win gold. Not only has it created a cocktail menu with aperitifs under the heading Opening Ceremony, digestifs under Closing Ceremony, and a high-ball named The Torch, but it has even created an international menu offering special dishes from 26 different countries across 26 days.
If you haven’t noticed the restaurant before, you’ve almost certainly walked past it. Located on Bishopsgate, next to the main entrance of Liverpool Street station, it’s obvious – but only when you know it’s there.
Inside is less easy to ignore. A domed stained glass window takes pride of place in the centre, and Coliseum-like pillars fill gaps between tables in the space that was part of the original hotel – the world’s first Andaz hotel, which dates back to 1901.
Clearly not keen on leaving metaphors unextended, starters here take their inspiration from the nations of Great Britain. While a serving of Scottish salmon with spinach-filled pancakes and horseradish mousse does all it promises in the description, it’s a Welsh-themed offering of soft lamb sweetbreads served with tender asparagus and a pleasantly peppery watercress sauce which would really make Team GB proud.
The international special of the day is Galician octopus, which comes winningly chargrilled and seductively smokey, though is accompanied by far too big a heap of rather uninteresting potatoes. As if countering the starchy hurdle, our sommelier excels himself at this point. Having already dropped a classic line or two – “Pinot Noirs are like women: you’re not meant to understand them” – he appears with not one but three sherries to match with our main, all based on the same grape variety but aged in different ways.
Desserts including a Swiss Trio of Toblerone mousse are the icing on the cake of a medal- winning meal. With mains priced at about £10, and some of the friendliest service we’ve encountered, this place is worthy of a visit well after the special international menu finishes. Don’t be fooled by the gimmick, the quality here is Olympic.