The Fool celebrates the Fourth of July at the only European outpost of America’s most renowned steakhouse chain.
The Fourth of July is a date no self-respecting organ should let pass unmarked. And we’re nothing if not self-respecting. So, how best to commemorate Independence Day? With a celebration of our third favourite thing ever to come out of America of course (after the wares of Apple Inc and the San Fernando Valley): the steakhouse.
Our French cousins will protest that ‘steak frites’ is a Gallic creation, but Americans took this dish and built an entire restaurant concept around it. The steakhouse is distinctly American, distinctly democratic and without pretension – something that celebrates success and excess. Lets face it, it perfectly reflects the country that created it. Today of all days, we should mark that.
So, where to do so? Well, come with us to the Palm in Belgravia.
The Palm is an outpost of a family business founded in New York in 1926
The Palm is the only European outpost of a family-owned business that has prospered in the States since it was founded in New York in 1926 by Pio Bozzi and John Ganzi. Fresh off the boat from Italy, they explained to the municipal licensing officer that they wanted to register their new business with the name of the town they were from. Not understanding their heavy accents, the official wrote down “Palm” rather than “Parma”.
Over the next four generations (the group is still owned and controlled by members of the Bozzi and Ganzi families), the Palm grew into a business that today includes 30 restaurants, of which four are in New York and one in London. Their philosophy, which the British might call hokey but I regard as admirable, is simple: treat guests like family, serve great food and always exceed expectations.
I was struck by how American it all is. I mean that in a good way. You’re greeted with a smile and a “Welcome!” from the Maitre d’, there’s a jock mixing drinks behind the bar (where a couple of customers are watching a ball game on TV); beyond, a more elegant dining room has plantation shutters and trad mahogany decor.
A cynic might accuse the Palm of parodying what an all-American steakhouse should look like: there are the celebrity caricatures on the walls (noticeably toned down in volume compared to the New York branch that Don Draper and I – sadly on different occasions – dined at some years ago), the booths, the low-key lighting and the relaxed sense of an old neighbourhood restaurant. Cynicism be damned. My advice? Enjoy it for what it is: an irony free zone.
That goes for the staff too: this is American service, meaning you’ll be supremely well looked after. I wish all restaurants trained their employees to be as focussed on their guests’ needs. It’s probably the best thing about the Palm.
Start with cocktails: I found a Martini, followed by a Sidecar, to be more than respectable. For wine with the meal, I chose the Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. Not cheap but it does perfectly represent what I love about California wines: confident, complex and consistent. On to food.
A prawn cocktail starter, while not generous (just four prawns hanging off the edge of the bowl ), was damn near perfect on the palate, and mercifully different to the pink mush we associate with this dish in Blighty.
The New York strip (it’s all USDA Prime 35 day aged) was perfectly cooked. You know the drill: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. Every mouthful a pleasure. The fries that accompanied it, despite how our waiter raved about them, were average at best – less than crunchy and saved only by the Parmesan and salt sprinkled abundantly over them. Some creamed spinach was pure comfort in a bowl, however, truly superb.
For desert, there’s really no other choice but the creamy, super-sized New York cheesecake. It’s good. Not historic but very good.
The American Dream doesn’t come cheap
The Palm doesn’t offer complicated or challenging cooking, but it’s competent and enjoyable. And therein lies the rub because the bad news I’m afraid is that the American Dream doesn’t come cheap. That 340g New York Strip is £42.90 alone. “All men are created equal” says the Declaration of Independence, but any man who aspires to dine at the Palm will have to work hard – damn hard – to afford it. In fact, the bill is as much a slap in the face to Londoners as the Boston Tea Party was (no surprise then that the ex-boss of Barclays, Bob Diamond, is reputed to be a regular.)
As good as the Palm is, it simply can’t justify its prices, even in Belgravia. I just don’t see how any steakhouse could – however close to the embodiment of the American Dream it may be.
The Palm, 1-3 Pont Street, Belgravia, London SW1X 9EJ, tel: +44 20 7201 0710
The Palm: Where the American Dream doesn’t come cheap
The Fool celebrates the fourth of July at the only European outpost of the US’ most famous steakhouse chain.
All photos courtesy of the Palm
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Our editor-in-chief, the self-proclaimed "greatest wit, raconteur and bon vivant of our age", borders on delusional. Over the years, the fool has squandered more money on fast cars, Swiss watches and electronic gadgetry of all kinds than he – or Mrs Fool – cares to remember. Come nightfall, he can invariably be found stumbling out of Dukes mumbling “just one more Martini; I could have handled just one mmmmm… [thud!]”
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