Honouring the avoidably lost is one of Great Britain’s not-so-great traditions. It irks me to see identikit dormitory estates steal first land then titles of dismantled noble estates and useful post offices adjusted into twee Old Post Offices not worth a posit on a postcard.
Replacing the trio of glasshouses of London’s Butterfly House where rare butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and birds existed until exile to Lincolnshire in 2007, I revolve into another example of identity theft: the multi-coloured Waldorf Astoria at Syon Park. Here, butterfly motifs trespass slate signs to the business centre where a Phillip Morris convention occurs while all’s immobile in a token butterfly cage in the lobby. Duty Manager Sarah Harris tells my travel writing friend and I that its inhabitants are ‘on holiday’. While she doubtlessly knows much about things that fly, having worked for six-and-a-half years as BA cabin crew dealing with the dislikes of Nicole Campbell, her sweetish adlib-alibi fails to reassure. But I forgive her on account of her aesthetically gripping legs.
But I’ve not come to stare at an empty butterfly sarcophagus; I’ve driven over to pick at a grouse at main restaurant, The Capability. Here, beside an in me groan inducingly ugly pastoral still life waitress Anouk tells me Executive Chef Lee Streeton (famed for crafting the world’s largest Scotch egg at Brown’s Hotel in 2008, but alas, since trumped) is also ‘on holiday’. I joke that I hope this means something pleasantly different in his case then that of the absentee butterflies.
As we’re handed menus adorned with the image of a decadently decrepit bonsai gracing the grounds, waiter Oskars explains in chunky Eastern European accent that Capability takes its name from Lancelot Brown, prodigious landscape architect behind many a folly and fountain nationwide as well as Syon Park’s ‘Pleasure Ground’. Despite his charming keenness (Oskars also draws my attention to a rather shiny repro-portrait of Capability by the till) I doubt a very English Georgian means that much to him, nor indeed Anouk.
Aside from outsize eggs, Streeton’s culinary USP is that much of his produce sprouts a herb garden which I glimpse through what look like big, bold 1980s style mullions (despite the fact the venue opened this year) framing possibly bulletproof glass. This is to drown the drone of the hectic Heathrow flightpath – no wonder Harris feels at home. The hotel also maintains orchards which will produce given time, with access to a trout pond. On learning about such green-fingered prowess, it strikes me as even more clumsy that the glasshouses were smashed – they may well have been of use as greenhouses.
The third Duchess of Northumberland described Syon Park as ‘this delicious place’. With her words in mind, expectation’s high. From Cornish Coppa to the infinitely ridiculous sounding Chairman’s chips, Streeton’s menu (my copy to keep is clipped with a staple featuring a butterfly) is defiantly British and excepting the stupid obese chips, couthly written. I eschew the obligatory listing of “Waldorf salad” (created by another Oskar – Oscar Tschirky who also popularised Thousand Island dressing) for ‘Robert’s’ edible garden salad. Although I don’t know who Robert is, his leaf-free mass of beans, peas and fennel coils is pretty and perky but, like all our savoury plates, oddly under-seasoned. The main act, ephemeral grouse from the Duke of Northumberland’s shoot, is tenderly cooked and not too high at this early date. But it’s hard to enthusiastically undress given its narrow board and leaks bird blood on the linen.
The Capability’s dining room mercifully feels the designer’s hand only slightly – albeit that of owner, Andreas Panyiato’s son rather than Capability Brown. Elsewhere in these walls, it’s confidently disastrous. Call it eclectic cruise ship meets boudoir jester. Roaming, I clock Chinese dragons nudging tromp l’oeil books and wire coffee tables grazing by gilt-framed Warhol rips. On looking for the loo, I find myself in ‘Duke’s’, a darkish ‘man cave’ (Harris’ description) equipped with a titanic TV plumbed to Sky and a garish mauve pool table. Panyiato senior expresses his fascination with boxing with Muhammad Ali prints. All hail the semiotics of the testosterone prone male.
The glasshouses have unceremoniously been removed, and the butterflies I think it’s accurate to surmise have died, but one positive remains. The Waldorf Astoria harbours a new breed of wildlife in said staff. Regardless of horrendous decor and blazing lighting the Waldorf’s human resource force are wholly friendly from waiter Oskars to pristine Sarah and a hostess who structures the most impressive black hole of a yawn before throwing herself into the mission of opening a fuzzy glass door for me. I’d venture such attributes of eccentricity, warmth and sociability are no doubt cultivated as a defence mechanism to the spoils of a designer who shoves their ego in everyone’s face, effectively vomiting every hue of a colour chart in order to distress and distract from an otherwise beautiful setting…
The Capability at Waldorf Astoria Syon Park, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 8JA, Tel: +44 20 7870 7777
Names Can’t Be Bulldozed: The Capability at Waldorf Astoria Syon Park
The multi-coloured Waldorf Astoria at Syon Park is an example of what our man Douglas Blyde refers to as “identity theft.” Here, butterfly motifs trespass slate signs to the business centre where a Phillip Morris convention occurs whiIe all’s immobile in a token butterfly cage in the lobby. But we’ve not come to stare at an empty butterfly sarcophagus; we’ve driven over to pick at a grouse at main restaurant, The Capability.
Our resident foodie is a former documentary man and utterly gripped by gastronomy: driven by a love of good taste and fascinated by that almost nocturnal, nervously energetic breed known as chefs. He longs, one day, to own a pristine restaurant, boutique hotel, almost mythically revered vineyard and a vast chocolate factory…
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