Alfie's by KEE

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There are few fashion brands I feel a genuine affinity for, but Dunhill is one of them. So much so in fact that I actually started to find Jude Law less objectionable when he became the face of Dunhill in a bizarre reversal of how celebrity endorsements are supposed to work.

I’ve also got a soft spot for KEE (for the goose and the club), so the combination of the two in Dunhill’s new flagship store should have been a marriage made in heaven. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The space was a little smaller and more exposed than we’d expected, with the admittedly snazzy stairway to the upper and lower floors of the store visible from within, and large windows looking out across the busy junction below. Still, the leather-dominated fixtures and fittings were suitably elegant and inviting, and the fine leather menu covers a nice touch. Unfortunately, what was inside was a little less urbane.

Now we’re all for gastro-pub cuisine, but this menu relied far too much on the obvious. The main courses were a case in point: pan-fried salmon, fish and chips, bangers and mash, roast chicken, filet steak and cottage pie are hardly likely to set one’s imagination alight. (The saffron-poached smoked haddock sounded more intriguing, but since they’d run out of it – at 7.30pm on a Tuesday – we didn’t get to find out). Sure these are British staples, but – as The Pawn and countless London gastropubs have demonstrated – there’s room for innovation too. And given the sleekness of the décor, the menu seemed a tad incongruous.

The starters too – including pork sausage roll, smoked salmon and prawn cocktail – were also (perhaps unashamedly) predictable. I went for the broccoli soup ($95) which came accompanied by a spoonful of crab and potato salad dressed with lemon juice, crème fraiche and caviar. It was a reasonable winter warmer, the crab and potato salad a refreshing and zesty counterpoint to the smooth and subtle broth. The H. Forman & Son’s smoked mackerel salad ($120) with capers, cornichons and grated egg, meanwhile, was a good enough rendition, with good-quality fish, but hardly knocked our socks off.

Thankfully the mains cranked things up a notch. The pan-fried Red Label Scottish salmon ($225) with lentils, pickled fennel, salmon roe and sour cream had a perfect light crisp to the outside, the flesh moist, succulent and full of flavour within. Even better was the char-grilled prime Angus filet steak ($290), which was so perfectly medium-rare we could have sworn it was cooked sous vide (they insisted grill). Served with wonderfully crunchy fat chips and a malt vinegar béarnaise that actually complemented rather than overpowered the robust taste of the meat, it’s certainly one of the better steaks we’ve had this year.

We had no complaints either with the True Brit desserts of Eton Mess ($78) with fresh strawberries and Berry’s Amontillado Estilo sherry trifle ($88) with seasonal berries.

The service, however, while friendly and with its heart firmly in the right place, left a lot to be desired. Despite the fact we took an age to order while chewing the fat (metaphorically), bread wasn’t brought until after our starters had reached the table. And while our starters arrived just a few minutes after ordering, our mains didn’t materialise until a full 30 minutes later, even though we were one of only two occupied tables. “They need a little work on the pacing,” said my companion redundantly as I jumped at every swing of the kitchen door, like a stood-up teenager on a first date.

On one hand, we sympathised: the place had only been open a couple of weeks and it was a public holiday. On the other hand, would the average customer be so forgiving on a $1,000 bill, regardless of the opening date? Either way, we’re fairly confident they’ll sort it out given time.

Alfie’s also serves breakfast from 7.30am-10am daily (except Sundays and public holidays) including a Full English with West Country style pork sausage and – lo and behold – black pudding for $138. This might be a better option for sampling Alfie’s for the time being, until the menu and service find their groove.

Paul Kay

M18-19, Prince’s Bldg, 10 Chater Rd, Central, 2530 4422. Daily noon-2.30pm and 7pm-10pm, Mon-Sat 7.30am-10am.

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