Almost exactly 11 years ago Maze, on London’s plush Grosvenor Square, was crowned the Best Restaurant in the UK in our inaugural National Restaurant Awards (or the Top 100 UK Restaurants as it was known back then), with a certain Jason Atherton as its executive chef. Since then, Atherton has gone on to open a slew of high-end successful restaurants across the globe, including his flagship, Pollen Street Social, just down the road.
Now Atherton’s back on the square and only a few doors down from where he made his name, this time at The Biltmore, part of Hilton’s super-luxe LXR brand of hotels. And if the name of the restaurant is to be believed, his latest project is better than ever – betterment being the rather clunky term for improvement (as well as the name of a New York-based online investment company, a quick Google search reveals).
The story doesn’t end there; the timing of Atherton’s return to this particular enclave of Mayfair is notable in that it goes head to head with the recently opened Lucky Cat, the Gordon Ramsay restaurant that now sits on the former Maze site. What a delicious plot development.
None of this will have any resonance with the majority of The Betterment’s customers, many of whom will likely know Atherton from his post-Ramsay days when he built his restaurant empire under The Social Company banner and spread his wings across the globe.
The Biltmore is a hotel that will no doubt appeal to international guests and Atherton’s name now rivals Ramsay’s in terms of global recognition. For Atherton, it’s just nice to be back. “Grosvenor Square is where it all began for me, and being able to come back and ply my trade there is a dream come true,” he says. “That’s what really appealed to me about the project.”
This time round his project channels the “old world glamour” of one of his favourite restaurants, The Grill in New York City’s Seagram Building, which Atherton describes as dealing in “simple cooking and pristine presentation”, with a menu that has something for everyone on it.
“It’s a restaurant that isn’t driven by what the chefs in the kitchen prefer, and it’s that idea I wanted to adopt when designing the menu for The Betterment; we want it to appeal to a broad market, not just London’s foodie crowd,” he says.
To this end, Atherton and The Betterment’s head chef Paul Walsh, who has moved from City Social, have developed a menu inspired by flavours from around the world. Starters include king crab with yuzu and lime served on a bed of ice; steak tartare with beef dripping croutons – with the option of adding caviar, as is de rigueur across the capital at the moment – and Isle of Skye langoustine crudo, miso and berries. Mains include shellfish linguine; and ox cheek tortellini as well as fish and meat ‘roasted over embers’, many of which are designed to be shared, including roast chicken, trompettes and Albufera sauce; south coast turbot with Morecambe Bay potted shrimp butter; and Saddleback pork two ways with five spice and coriander salad.
In keeping with the pair’s desire to keep things simple – or as simple as a multi-Michelin starred chef can, at any rate – mains are relatively fuss free. Instead, it is the side dishes that are said to form the flair of the meal and let Atherton and Walsh pull off the culinary trickery for which they are known. These include root vegetables and pheasant; New Forest wild mushrooms with smoked egg yolk; and baby spinach, bottarga, shellfish vinaigrette and cauliflower hummus.
Prices are suitably Mayfair, although a three-course lunch for £29.50 that features different dishes to the à la carte does open it up to a wider clientele. As does the restaurant’s very sensible and comprehensive children’s menu that features sandwiches, pizza, pasta, burgers, fish and chips and chicken schnitzel, with Atherton not too proud to serve peas and baked beans to younger diners.
Vegetarians, by contrast, are less well-catered for, with no obvious vegetarian à la carte available and only a select few dishes that don’t contain either meat or fish on offer.
As part of his betterment philosophy, Atherton isn’t stopping here. The prolific restaurateur says he’s close to signing on a site in Mayfair in which to reopen his upscale Japanese restaurant Sosharu and is also looking to open more restaurants under his pizza brand Hai Cenato.
44 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London W1K 2HP