James Lawrence braves building noise in one of London’s busiest areas in order to down cocktails and eat oysters. The man’s devotion to his readers knows no bounds…
If location really is everything, then Vivi is possibly London’s most divisive restaurant; situated at the Tottenham Court Road/Charing Cross Road intersection of Oxford Street, Vivi is a doddle to find. Yet this part of London, replete with never-ending banging, drilling and thumping, is a part of the capital all Londoners famously avoid.
However, I’m delighted to say that the re-modelled Centre Point area of Oxford Street now boasts a least one culinary draw: Vivi – the brainchild of hospitality group Rhubarb – is part of this new era. The investors were clearly no skinflints when it came to lavishing funds on the décor; a combination of four spaces – Vivi Bar, Vivi Dining, Vivi Gallery and Vivi Liquid Lounge – have clearly benefited from a keen eye for contemporary, but not lurid, design. Think jewel-toned velvets and marble surfaces, all bathed in an abundance of natural light via floor-to-ceiling windows. Meanwhile, the bespoke plexiglass and brass chandelier lends Vivi an opulent air.
So we settle in at the bar, which is another showstopper of design. Cocktails are called for – the place is steadily filling up with ladies’ lunches and moneyed suits. “Who do you think Vivi’s key audience is,” my companion enquirers. “To be all things to all men,” replies the affable manager, overhearing our conversation.
It’s a fair summation of what Vivi can offer: dining from late morning till night, or just a few cocktails for the already nourished. The menu covers all the bases and offends no one: its raison d’etre is to provide simple, well-executed fayre; Caesar Salad, rib-eye steak, steamed lemon sole, and seared and smoked salmon were all present and correct. It’s comfort food of a type we all crave after experiencing the conceptualised, deconstructed ethos that sometimes rules the fine dining and Michelin-starred scene.
Before we commence the wine list duly arrives and it showcases a wide range of grapes and styles from all corners of the globe. Another win for Vivi, and how different to my experiences in Paris last month, where you are hard-pressed to find a wine list without a significant local basis; maybe one or two bottles of Italian red, for charitable purposes, but nothing more.
A glass of Austrian Gruner Veltliner perfectly complemented my minted pea soup, while my companion plumped for oysters. Grippy, saline and fresh, the wine and shellfish were made for each other.
We ordered Caesar salad and the house burger, which was cooked to perfection, and perched atop a sweet brioche bun. Fries were an extra £4.50. Yet the strongest part of the whole experience was dessert; our unnamed pastry chef served up an exquisite, booze-drenched rum baba with confit orange and Chantilly cream. Meanwhile my friend enjoyed (at least I presume so from his facial expression), his ice cream sundae. We were also graciously invited back to the bar for more cocktails, where one could imagine spending more than a few minutes after work nursing a well-deserved libation. For those who can’t face moving to a table, Vivi has included some bar snacks and canapés for the esurient.
Ultimately, Vivi’s culinary offering isn’t going to set the world on fire and doesn’t set out to. It caters to couples and groups who want a fun evening out, not food snobs and molecular gastronomes. I’m often told by friends that they will forgive indifferent food, if the service is spot on and on that front, Vivi has no deficiencies; from the manager to our servers, the staff have clearly been trained with Teutonic levels of precision, merged with a charming affability. At one point during our meal I was set to depart– not Vivi’s fault – as the restaurant below was renovating with all the intrusive noise you’d expect, despite promising to curtail their working hours. One quick call from a member of the team, and they relented. And if that’s isn’t great service, I don’t know what is.
11 St Giles Passage Square,
0300 500 0958
James Lawrence @jameswinelover