‘Alex Webb on Park Lane’ - it’s a punchy title and with it, brings some high expectations. Park Lane is one of those place names that has a bit of a rep. I fondly remember childhood games of Monopoly, squirming as other players rolled their dice and moved their counters over the hallowed inky blue square, praying they didn’t snap it up before I got a chance. It was card most desirable, along with its Mayfair counterpart. Once I moved to London I got to see these allusive property squares come to life, visiting the big Topshop on Oxford St, university on Regent’s St, train journeys into Kings Cross but I never really ventured to Park Lane. I was aware of it but the student loan wouldn’t quite stretch for that sort of outing. Flanked with super cars and luxury hotels, this was no place for a pov’ stricken first year. As I entered the next chapter of my London life, the working years, the W1 postcode continued to elude me as I made my home in South East London.. That dark blue area felt like a different country to me and I was fine with that.
Hopping off the tube at Hyde Park Corner, I almost went to grab my passport rather than my card to tap out. So used to navigating multiple tube exits and warrens like the back of my hand, I suddenly found myself having to consult (dare I even admit it) the signposts. Feeling like a tourist, I followed my subway exit and found myself propelled into a part of London totally alien to me. Face to face with the statue of the Duke of Wellington, I was a teenager again - wide eyed and full of wonder at this new city.
Crossing the road to The Intercontinental, the hotel housing Alex Webb and his brigade, those childhood thoughts came flooding back, “this is the fanciest place on the board”. But it wasn’t. And not in a bad way. A restaurant that could so easily fall into the categories of stuffy, posh, austere was anything but - it is relaxed, welcoming and friendly. Alex is an Essex lad at heart, a firm favourite on BBC’s Masterchef (he won me over when he filled a party popper with passion fruit powder as part of his final dish which earned him the crown), you can feel his exuberance fill the restaurant before you even set eyes on the food. As Essex meets Mayfair, warmth meets formality and blends in a perfect marriage.
Alex has had as much input into the restaurant interiors as he has to the menu and I wonder if he also harked back to memories of that board game when designing it, perhaps with a knowing smile that he has won the game. Inky blue walls decorated with quirky art including hand drawn images of him and his Masterchef trophy, peacock taxidermy (99% sure these are fake but didn’t like to ask) and blue leather menus. There is a subtle theme here and I am into it. The colour palette matches perfectly with mid century armchairs and brushed brass accents and almost in a continuation of the interiors, the colourscape bleeds out of the restaurant, through the large gallery style window and into the inky blue London night. In creating this seamless bleed of colour the space is transformed into an almost cocoon like state.
Taking our welcome glass of Hattingley Valley, an elegant UK sparking wine - Alex’s menu champions seasonal, British produce - we enjoyed our fizz at the contemporary bar space overlooking a bustling Park Lane. As black cabs and red buses whizzed past in a technicolor blur, we could have been looking onto an early noughties music video, lucky for us, no wind machines in sight as we retreated inward and took out seats in the cosy corner of the restaurant.
The menu proudly utilises ingredients and inspiration from ‘land, sea and tree’ and Alex sets the bar high with his first demonstration of this - his very theatrical canapes. I believe there is a time and place for gastronomic theatrics and this was one of them. Having my whistle whet by the aforementioned party popper, I was excited to see what tricks would be served up in his own house. Paying homage to each theme, we oohed and ahhed as our black garlic tuiles shaped into dainty branches balanced on an actual branch, the black bomber cheese tarts (which may I add, I haven’t stopped dreaming about since devouring) came in a presentation box laced with moss and our squid ink crackers, topped with fresh crab adorned a pile of pebbles, of course, all being surrounded by a swirling, mystical dry ice. Another clever move by Chef Webb, bringing a dash of magic to the table at first chance and making his diners eek and squeak like big kids, wrapping them in a layer of warmth and nostalgia.
So spoilt for choice with the menu on offer, my dining partner and I had to share three starters and we only stopped at two mains because we were both wearing very unforgiving trousers. Plates of beef carpaccio topped with pickled shimeji, pine nut puree and truffle; tuna tartare embellished with a citrus salad and avocado puree; lobster toast with black sesame and sweet chilli (insert drooling emoji here) were placed before us. We descended on our banquet with grunts and moans only ever used for food of the highest standard. Our conversation had been paused and instead we communicated with wide eyes of merriment and glee. Cutlery left untouched, we used our freshly baked bread to mop up sauces and butters, we checked no one was watching as we padded our fingertips into any crumb left behind.
Our mains were as beautiful as they were delicious. The lamb rump served with sweetbreads, lamb bacon and lamb jus was balanced perfectly with a romanesco and red pepper gel that danced across the plate - literally, well not literally but the record player trick had certainly been used resulting in a bright red spiral across the stark white plate ensuring we were eating with our eyes as well as our mouths. Atlantic sea cod with sea herbs, pickled onion, crispy potatoes and finished with a champagne sauce was one of the most elegant dishes I have had the pleasure of wrapping my chops around in quite some time and yet still, Alex doesn’t let go of his fun touches as Jemima, perhaps the best server in W1, arrived at the table with a bowl of crispy potatoes that looked sort of like green rice crispies, and there we were again, transported back to our childhood. Sides of slow cooked butter and thyme potatoes loaded with parmesan and grilled hispi cabbage drenched in blue cheese sauce and bacon are reason enough to pay this place a visit.
A pre dessert of Espresso Martini soft serve sitting proudly in mini ice cream cones was one of the highlights of the evening. A perfect bite to transition us from the savoury portion of the evening into the sweet. Creamy, rich espresso doused in a luxurious caramel, this morsel of a dish moves you through the years - the excitement of being handed a Mr Whippy from the ice cream van as a child, the buzz of an espresso martini in later years. This was Chef Webb on a plate… well, in a cone.
To complete the evening, we had to admit defeat and share one dessert and so on Jemima and chef’s recommendation we were presented with a dark chocolate sphere with praline & feuilletine and orange gel. I am not usually a chocolate kind of girl but perhaps Alex had succeeded in pulling out my inner child because this I devoured. And I know it's been done to death but I still get off on that first crack of the bowl of the spoon hitting the sphere, I like an interactive pud, what can I say. The combination of the orange gel, the snap of the chocolate, the roundness of things on the plate, I was eating a very grown up jaffa cake and I was very happy in doing so.
Alex Webb has done what many have strived to do. He has set up shop in one of the most prestigious locations in the city and he has done so in a fun and comfortable manner. He has blended a formal dining experience with a relaxed atmosphere, layering his menu with nostalgia and memories and in doing so, takes his diners on a journey not just gastronomically but personally. For a fine dining experience in the heart of London, loaded with personality and humanity - I could not recommend Alex Webb on Park Lane enough. My only regret being I didn’t have time to visit his sweet shop - guess I’ll just have to go back.
MasterChef quarter finalist, food and travel writer and mental health muser Hannah Gregory is always on a quest for her next adventure. Happiest with a glass full of wine, a belly full of food and sun on her skin, she is constantly on the hunt for food led travel destinations.