What? “Ah, meester Bond, I’ve been expecting you. Here’s your table, I’ll get you a menu”. Okay, so it’s not quite Dr No, but there’s something distinctly Bond-Villain-Lair about M Restaurant on Victoria Street, a hidden subterranean hideaway beneath the mysterious ‘Zig Zag Building”. But is it Stromberg’s Atlantis or just a Zorin’s Blimp?
Where? The restaurant is based in the strikingly isometric Zig Zag on Victoria Street, a building that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bond movie location scout’s long-list, though the activities within are that other face of world domination, mainly hedge funds.
The Look: It’s all very Tinker, Tailor and espionage-y, hidden entrances and so on. I arrange to meet my ‘contact’ at the restaurant but perplexingly I can’t find it! Pacing up and down Victoria Street I can see there’s a Mango outlet and a Hugo Boss, and an upmarket wine shop; very showy with an impressive champagne display in the window. Running a little early and channelling my (not so)-inner-alcoholic I decide to browse the wines on sale and it’s only as I’m scouring label on an English sparkling that I notice a group of people quitely descending down a staircase behind the counter which I had assumed led to the stock room. In reality it’s the entrance to the restaurant itself. Q-branch would be proud.
With my guest now in tow we’re led down the staircase and into the dark and cavernous bowels of the Zig Zag, which opens out into a dark and very loud bar area. However, approach the bar itself and head straight behind, as though you’re heading into the manager’s office or the room they might keep the urinal cakes in or whatever. In fact it’s a secret door through to M’s private members’ club.
There is, a well informed fellow once told me, a particular Soho pub that’s a favourite for intelligence community parties precisely because the entrance to the private room is hidden behind the bar. The fact it confounds guests who would never think to stray beyond the servers tickles the spooks. This is equally beguiling and secretive and we loved it.
Beyond the secret door, in M’s inner-sanctum, club members huddle in dark corners while the bar serves excellent cocktails. Membership costs £1,000 a year but comes with the kicker that a full breakfast is laid on and included every day and is available both in Victoria and in The City at M Threadneedle Street. If in normal life you’re spending £5 each Monday to Friday workday on breaking the fast, then that comes to £1,300 a year alone, which suddenly makes M pretty decent value indeed…
A cocktail later (shaken, not stirred, natch) and it’s through to the dining room for dinner. It’s an accoustic miracle that the club room is nearly silent, and the dining room is mercifully quiet, while the bar that connects them is a cocophony of socialising and music. I’m secretly glad that I didn’t have to stick around in the bar, the vibe seems seriously upbeat and everyone’s enjoying themselves, but half an hour of asking people to repeat themselves is not that attractive.
The restaurant itself is set across two levels, a raised semicircle of booths about four feet above, and surrounding, smaller tables in the middle. The booths comfortably seat around half a dozen diners and are the perfect vantage point from which to survey those in the cheap seats.
On The Menu: Chef Michael Reid may be familiar to TV viewers for his appearance on shows like Great British Menu. His speciality is steak and he’s credited with bringing the world’s highest grade of kobe beef to M Restaurants. We were granted a sliver to taste along with our meal, it’s about £30 a mouthful and tastes it. If I ever win the lottery I’ll be buying at least a few cow’s worth.
What We Ate: Food envy is the worst. The feeling that through your own poor judgement you will now have the ordeal of watching someone else eat the meal you should have ordered. This time, though, I won the food envy stakes hands-down.
I started with the buttermilk fried chicken and it was delicious, fried in breadcrumbs, imagine the chicken nuggets they serve in heaven. Meanwhile, I watch my guest, rather pleased with himself for polishing off a giant doorstep of pre-starter bread as he’s presented with his asparagus and burrata, which which is laid on top of another identical hunk of the bread he’s just devoured. It’s not listed as such in the menu and his face visibly drops as I heartily tuck into my chicken.
On the mains again I’m well ahead in the envy game, the lamb cutlets he orders, served with charcoal mayonnaise, burnt aubergine and broad beans is brilliant, but not on the same level as my Botswana spiral-cut striploin. Served with french fries it’s hands-down the best meal I’ve had all month and some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten.
Things evened out a little for the dessert, I topped things off with a Pina Colada pudding – a rum Soaked ginger cake with coconut sorbet, BBQ pineapple and caramelised whey and my friend gobbled up his Hay Pannacotta, with wood cooked fruits, figs and frozen sable. Both equally delicious.
What We Drank: Sticking to the house wines, we drank both M’s ‘White Label’ and ‘Black Label’ bottles. Both Malbecs produced exclusively for M, Director Of Wine Zack Charilaou is won ‘Best UK Sommelier’ at the 2015 Harpers Awards and it shows, they were the perfect accompaniment.
Go With: Go with the steak. Like seriously.
Final Word: So the question remains, is M Restaurant the perfect spy hideaway? After all, it’s even named after Judi Dench, sort of. Perhaps M fits with the glossy spies we’re presented in popular culture, the perfect Roger Moore image sipping Pol Roger in glamorous locations, and it’s certainly a lair worthy of any villain worth his salt. But in reality spies are glorified civil servants plying their grubby trade a million miles from the Savile Row suited, suave model we picture, so no this isn’t a hide-out for Mr Blofeld. But it is an effective networking hub for bankers. After all, who else could afford £100 for 100g of beef? Certainly not someone paying with a HM Treasury chequebook! And this is no bad thing, beyond the sleek lines, fancy hideaways and glamorous dark corners there is some brilliant cookery happenning and it deserves the price it commands. This isn’t just a hangout for bankers, it’s a hideout for bankers who love excellent steak. Aside from the bottom line, the bottom line is that Michael Reid is a genius and I would recommend you save up and go and taste his creations. But maybe don’t bother with the asparagus and burrata on bread if you’ve just guzzled the contents of the bread basket!
M: Zig Zag Building, 74 Victoria St, Victoria, SW1E 6SQ