I have long had an obsession with New York, in particular Manhattan, and all because of “Sex and the City”. From the trendy restaurants and bars, to the wonderful fashion sported by the cast to that feeling one only gets when you live and work in one of the world’s great cities, as I was at the time in London. I was working in the corporate world of finance, a very dull affair where fashion ceases to exist and I made my mark, taking a leaf out of the SATC girls book by daring to wear colour to the office. Ever since this time I have dreamt of strolling the streets of Manhatten, silk scarf blowing in the autumn wind, Hermes Birkin in hand, heading to one of those uber-trendy New York hangouts for cocktails or dinner with the girls. On this trip my prayers were answered.
First on the hit-list was Beauty and Essex which opened in December 2010 by the team behind Stanton Street Social, it offers glamour and a hint of subterfuge. The 10,000-square-foot space offers up a lounge, restaurant, bar and an expansive second floor with dramatic lighting for those looking for after hours entertainment. The enigmatic front is set up as a pawn shop, with vintage Chanel bags, classic instruments and jewellery to die for, a door in the back leads to a night life emporium designed by AvroKo. The ground floor is a sleek restaurant that serves lounge-friendly bites, upstairs, past a staircase that spirals around a soaring chandelier, is a wood-panelled lounge with divans and another bar. One of my favourite features was the free Champagne in the ladies’ bathroom, it seems that men are not so lucky.
My friends and I entered through the rather crowded bar, the clientele seemed to be mostly fashionable single thirty-somethings, girls in their shimmery dresses and boys in a kind of Shoreditch meets Chelsea combo, running the glamourous gauntlet we finally made it to our table under the rooftop atrium garden. I decided to go for the Kobe beef carpaccio for starter, which came with shallot crisps, arugula (rocket to us Brits) and grana salad with black olive oil and for main the seared Nori spiced tuna with wasabi parsnip purée and miso glazed asparagus. Beautifully presented on a rectangular plate, the Kobe was wafer thin but packed with flavour and the arugula and grana gave an unusual but pleasant crunchy edge to the dish.
The Nori spiced tuna was also a sight to behold in three little piles; the tuna was seared and almost raw in the middle, the parsnip purée cut through the saltiness of the fish, a very interesting dish both in presentation and taste. The service was sublime despite it being very busy, nothing was to much trouble for the voguish staff. After a few more glasses of bubbly it was time to head back to the hotel – we exited like celebs with the chauffeur ushering us in to the blacked-out window city car. Beauty and Essex is indeed one of those uber trendy New York hangouts one would have found in SATC with the girls sipping Cosmos at the bar, I think I may have found my home away from home in those stylish surroundings.
The second New York hipster hangout on the hit-list was Mercer Kitchen, one of Jean-George Vongerichten restaurants located in the Mercer Hotel. Situated in the basement of a historic building constructed in the 1800’s, the restaurant was designed by Christian Liaigre as a combination of industrial and classic modernism. Exposed brick walls, long banquettes, and candlelit sconces give the place a timelessly stylish, sexy, fun ambiance. The restaurant boasts that it brings a chic, sophisticated vibe to the heart of SoHo, this would have been the case had it not been for what I can only describe as the rudest maître d’ I have ever had the displeasure of meeting. I am very privileged to have eaten at some of the finest eateries from around the globe, and to me, nothing is more important than service, it seems though unfortunately that Mercer Kitchen does not share in my beliefs. After what I can only describe as a fight for our table, which had been booked weeks in advance, my dining partner Cara and I finally relaxed with a glass of much needed bubbles. The menu features market-driven food options, seasonal ingredients prepared in a simple yet elegant style, with favorites like the tuna spring roll, steamed shrimp salad, wood-fired pizzas, and classic warm Valrhona chocolate cake.
The name of the restaurant derives from the fact that the kitchen is an open kitchen, where guests can sit back and watch the show, if their seat so allows them to. I decided to opt for the carpaccio of Black Sea Bass with lime, coriander and mint for starter and Cara and I shared the Black Truffle and Fontina cheese pizza for main with sides of Macaroni & Cheese and sautéed French beans and baby carrots. The sea bass was evidently very fresh but unfortunately there was a touch too much lime which over powered the delicate fish, it resembled something more of a soup than a carpaccio, which was a shame as the sea bass was of a good quality. The pizza however was very tasty, no mistaking the strong aroma of the truffle, thin based and crispy, although size wise one each would have been better suited. The vegetables and mac & cheese were also quite decent, all washed down with more bubbles. In conclusion, I am not sure I would return to Mercer Kitchen, the experience of the obnoxious maître d’ made for a bad start to the night and from there on in, despite the quality of the food, I could not bring myself to like this restaurant, which is a shame as it could have made for a great evening were the service greatly improved.