Prêt a Diner, with its umpteen Michelin-starred chefs involved in the culinary (and globetrotting) empire since it began back in 2007, is known by most to have challenged the “art of dining” in the last decade. I almost declared that perhaps it had “changed” the art of dining or even “revolutionised” it.
But the art of dining as a concept, is nothing new – having been realised (and probably revolutionised even) many a time by generations before us. In the hedonism of Prêt a Diner’s grandiose appearance, one can easily forget this. Note the grand high table, on which sits elaborate floral centrepieces and which feature in the middle of most temporarily borrowed Prêt a Diner venues. Like a mirage of the past over the present, they would've made the likes of Henry VIII and chums feel right at home. In short – borrowing dining concepts from the past and mashing it up with neon words and contemporary sculpture is not a revolutionary concept, no matter how lured in you are by its ethereal otherworldliness.
Wow factor though, does impress. As soon as one walks in the door of 50 St James in Mayfair, one is met by an instant change in dining room scenery – helped along by the grandeur of a Grade II listed building and its appropriately faded glamour. Leafy walls fill the adjacent bar, along with randomly placed contemporary art and “design-art” furniture. Staff are sassy (naturally), the bar is superiorly cool (as it should be) and overseen (along with the cocktails) by Tony Conigliario of 69 Colebrooke Row, one of mixology's most respected masters. A pre-meal diversion to the bar for this reason, is highly recommended – the concoctions are incredible.
This time round the theme, Italians Do It Better can be seen throughout, from cuisine overseen by Giorgio Locatelli through to live music and diversely interesting art. One of the co-founders of the Prêt a Diner institute, is Olivia Steele, whose neon artistry I have always admired.
Then there is the impeccable duo, Kofler and Kompanie, the other half of the brainchild. Together, they've brought a certain type of finesse, bohemian chic and hedonism to the eating-out experience. Low red lighting sets the scene and even post-dinner there is an afterthought in the shape of a yet darker room beyond, featuring some of London's finest DJ-ing talent. But what about the food you ask?
Chefs interchange at Prêt a Diner, which certainly maintains the modern consumer's restless demand for variety. Our menu offered the choice of Norbert Neiderkofler or Viviana Varese's dishes. Neiderkofler's menu offered veal fillet with tuna mousse, followed by duck ragout and then Beef, whilst Varese's offered a lighter alternative of zucchini flower and ricotta, followed by octopus and duck breast with fois gras and raspberry.
Both menus, tried and tested, were gastronomically delightful and did not disappoint in taste or quantity. There was an essence of molecular gastronomy's elements of surprise running through the desserts with Lost Like Adam which aimed to “seduce you with an apple foursome” of jelly, sorbet and foam and Golden Dome, to “end your diet with a bang” which featured pastries, candid lemon-orange peel and vanilla. Wines were clearly carefully selected to accompany the food, as they should be when tastes are designed to complement one another at the hands of expert chefs.
Whilst the bill isn't modest (dinner for four with wine can cost around £400-£500) and the service can be temperamental (we were served our first course before we were served wine and water) there is no doubt that Prêt a Diner will impress. It's a place that dazzles, a place to be seen at and a place with unmatchable kudos. And one thing's for sure, it's a dining experience unlike no other which has revved up the gastronomy scene to new heights.