This restaurant is now closed.
If I gave my blog posts headlines rather than simple titles, you can be sure that they would be dreadful punning ones. Bar Boulud? 'Not worth the hulla-Boulud'; Drapers Arms? 'Cut from some very fine cloth', that sort of thing. I say this only because while struggling to think where to begin with appraising an eminently forgettable dinner at Marylebone newbie Cafe Luc, I came up with several groan-out-loud possibilities: 'A Luclustre Performance'; 'Luc warm at best'; 'Luc who's coming for dinner' - you get the picture. And speaking of pictures, you know it's come to something when I break my cardinal rule of not photographing food to snap my smiley-faced gazpacho, just to be sure of having something of interest to share.
This isn't to say I was left feeling entirely luctiferous by Cafe Luc, which occupies a huge site at the northern end of fashionable Marylebone High Street. Much of the experience was very agreeable, not least the company of the devilishly-handsome up-and-coming fashion television producer James Tomlinson who, you heard it here first, will very soon be telling us all what not to wear and how to look good clothed. The cocktails we kicked off the evening with - a vodka Martini and a Sea Breeze - were excellent, although there's no list so you just have to know what you want and hope that they know how to make it. And it's a not unattractive if rather corporate-feeling room, with lucent clusters of lamps spaced along biscuity-beige walls and plenty of mirrors for admiring one's fellow diners (and oneself) in. It's just those rather important elements of food and service that let the place down.
On its website, Cafe Luc boasts that "the classic brasserie menu references French and Mediterranean dishes, drawing on seasonal and local produce." So far so appetising, except that the menu doesn't actually make any references to seasonality or provenance, other than for a dish of Cornish mackerel on the prix-fixe which combines both (if by 'local' they mean 'regional' which I rather fancy to be the case). Sure, the smiley gazpacho was made with tomatoes, which are very much in season at the time of writing, but as a showcase of August's abundant lycopene-rich lovelies it wasn't exactly up there with, say, the beautiful, rainbow-hued salad of Heritage toms I enjoyed on my most recent visit to Dean Street Townhouse.
James and I ordered from the prix-fixe, good value at £15.50 and even better value at the £1 it was costing me thanks to an opening online offer. Good value, yes, but also depressingly pedestrian. As well as the gazpacho, which was garlicky, oily and not at all bad, starter choices were smoked salmon (described by both the menu and James as 'fine') served eccentrically on a toasted crumpet, and a duck terrine. Mains included pea risotto, the aforementioned Cornish mackerel and steak frites. We both ordered the latter; it was all right. Our desserts, lemon tart with raspberries and Chantilly and Nutella crème brulée, were good although the latter tasted more of chocolate than of the promised hazelnut and thus disappointed. I'm honestly not sure if we'd have fared any better ordering a la carte; while it's perfectly possible to szhuszh up a 'classic brasserie menu' (step forward Automat) I don't think that's happening in the kitchen at Cafe Luc based on what we were served.
Ah yes - the service. Like the food, it wasn't actively bad, and I would probably have been more sympathetic had what we were eating been really stellar, but the so what-ness of the meal only served to accentuate the 'So what?' attitude of the people serving it. Excepting the warm welcome at the reception desk, staff were for the most part aloof, absent and seemingly uninterested in making our experience a memorable one. Worst of all, they committed the to-me impardonable table-side sin of serving James's main course to his empty place while he was away from the table. Given that other tables seemed to be receiving rather more attention, I can only conclude that because one of us was only paying a pound, we were deemed worthy of only 12.5 pence worth of service.
Somewhat depressingly, I expect that despite the blandness of all it has to offer Cafe Luc will thrive; while over-priced for what it is, perversely it's pretty cheap for Marylebone and in its very ordinariness could service a need for 'plain' food in an enclave which boasts plenty for the gourmand - The Providores, L'Autre Pied and Orrery are all nearby - but little for the casual diner. Whatever your culinary preference, I can only suggest that you Luc elsewhere.
Cafe Luc, 50 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 5HN Tel: 020 7258 9878 http://www.cafeluc.com