MANEKI-NEKO, a Japanese term, refers to the cat with the waving paw that’s so often seen near the entry of many Asian businesses….particularly restaurants. MANEKI-NEKO loosely translates as meaning GOOD FORTUNE or LUCKY CAT. If the left hand is waving…it means good luck for BUSINESS. If it’s the right hand beckoning, that means good luck with money for your family and household.
Enter British rock-star celebrity chef, writer, critic and TV personality….GORDON RAMSAY.
Now Joanne and I over the years have been universally pleased with all of his London restaurants beginning with his Michelin 3 starred early success on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea. A few years later we had the pleasure of dining at his restaurant housed in CLARIDGE’S HOTEL in Mayfair. Then ten years ago he opened MAZE also in Mayfair. MAZE, a small plate sharing restaurant, proved to be a “target rich” venue for several visits by our PARASOLE CULINARY teams over the past decade. Ramsay never had trouble plating up beautifully crafted and eye-popping dishes like the LOBSTER and LEMONGRASS RISOTTO illustrated below.
And so it is, that after a ten year run, that he “folded his tent” at MAZE.
That’s where the cat comes in. His new place, LUCKY CAT, is a small plate PAN JAPANESE-ISH venue, that debuted last summer in the same spot as MAZE on Grosvenor Square.
It seemed to me that LUCKY CAT, being Asian, he took a bold, risky and “gutty” step in that immediate neighborhood because just a few short blocks away are already two knock-out ASIAN restaurants….BOTH MICHELIN STARRED. One is UMU….on Bruton Place…. Chic and high fashioned AUTHENTIC JAPANESE cuisine. The other, just down the street, is KAI…..a favorite of Joanne and mine…..”little plates of loveliness” that lean CHINESE with subtle MALAYSIAN influences. But then, what the hell do I know ?
Well, I do know this. LUCKY CAT is good looking and very well “put-together”. Jet black is the “mother color” and the space is very, very dark indeed…..a sort of “shadowy aesthetic”. Little bespoke gold ceramic LUCKY CATS are everywhere….300 of ‘em….all cleverly positioned. In a press release, Ramsay stated that the space is dark to prevent photography. Good luck with that.
LUCKY CAT apparently was inspired by the EATING and DRINKING CLUBS and JAZZ DENS of the 1930’s that thrived in Tokyo and other Asian capitals. Does anybody alive remember these ????
Being Gordon Ramsay fans, Joanne and I went to LUCKY CAT last month on a rainy Tuesday night in London. The sultry dark space immediately felt cozy to our damp and chilled bodies as we were seated at a oversized sized deuce.
I should pause here to tell you that prior to our visit to LUCKY CAT, we had read the reviews in THE GUARDIAN and other London publications as well. They were not good.
Grace Dent of THE GUARDIAN stated that the restaurant was too loud and waits between courses were way too long. She opined that the DUCK LEG was sticky and fatty.
Service was chaotic. And saying that the prices were so high that you “could wave goodbye to next month’s car payment”.
George Reynolds of the London Eater stated “It’s been a tough week for cats”. Restaurant critic Fay Maschler and Reynolds both scratched their heads in wonderment of why the DUCK LEG is crusted in BONITO FLAKES….giving it a fishy flavor. Reynolds, continuing his harsh review, citing that even a dead cat will “BOUNCE” if it falls from a great height. “But, this feline in question just continues to free fall”.
So, fore-warned is fore-armed. Knowing all of this, Joanne and I “soldiered-on” and proceeded to work our way through the menu in spite of our waiter who knew PRACTICALLY NOTHING about the menu content and ABSOLUTEL NOTHING about the wine list. Even though the delivery of our selections was out-of-sync….long gaps in delivery and then two or three dishes all at once, the food certainly had glimpses of the Ramsay touch…..full flavored, colorful and frequently clever. We especially enjoyed the smallish CHAR-SIU PORK CHOP with NASHI PEAR as well as the previously mentioned DUCK LEG (which is actually for do-it-yourself BAO BUNS).
But …..what we especially DID NOT ENJOY was the NOISE LEVEL. Our oversized deuce table proved to be too big and Joanne and I literally could not hear a single word the other said. My guess is that the decibel level was somewhere between a LIVE ROCK CONCERT and a 757 taking off from Heathrow.
What we also did not enjoy were the EYE-WATERING PRICES. Yes, I am aware that this is the most expensive neighborhood in London and consequently the rents are in the stratosphere. But this is a SMALL PLATE RESTAURANT with scaled back portions. Most plates are about 7 inches in diameter. So when two tiny (albeit delicious) lamb chops cost $ 33 usd and a small single duck leg is $ 35 usd and a Negroni is $ 21….well….
I feel that if members of the British Royal Monarchy had dined here, I can say as Jay Rayner of the Gaurdian once said….”I, too, have been ROYALLY SCREWED”.