The identities of Chelsea and Bluebird are synonymous, writes Amelia Walker. I’ve hit up Bluebird Chelsea over the years for the odd alfresco after-work drink in the cobbled courtyard, but only ate dinner in the first-floor brasserie for the very first time back in June. Then, I was expecting to be bowled over, courtesy of its reputation and continual-flow of resident, well-heeled clientele. Instead, I was surprised to find the food unexciting and overpriced, the setting tired, and the service poor. I vowed not to return. Fast forward three months and I’m informed that it’s had a facelift and undergone a huge renovation of the restaurant and bar, courtesy of designer Sagrada (The Arts Club and Sartoria). There’s a new chef at its helm too and a new menu, inspired by the best of modern European cooking. I was curious. When a friend mentioned he’d had a business lunch there a week after it had re-opened and had been impressed, I conceded. I had to see for myself.
It’s a buzzy atmosphere for a Monday night. A group of off-duty suits are relaxing on the sofas, couples on dates are at the bar and young families are eating an early supper. The setting is magical and the indoor trees, high atrium ceiling and pretty lighting are lovely. The large, elegant restaurant has been impressively updated with rich, custom-made velvet teal and dove grey chairs and funky carpets. Raspberry red bar stools adorn the central curved steel bar – the perfect spot to take a casual cocktail before dinner. Soft lighting and drapes make for notable touches.
Executive Chef Liam Smith-Laing has reworked the menu. Having worked for some of London’s finest establishments – I’m talking Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, Marcus Wareing at The Savoy Grill, Petrus, The Boxwood Café and internationally at La Petite Maison in Istanbul – I’m confident we’re in good hands as my guest and I are guided to a quiet corner window table, overlooking the fairy-lit courtyard below.
Autumn eating means filling fare and as I peruse the menu I’m pleased to find it simple and compendious. There’s pasta, fish, meat and grill – and each of these only have three options to pick from. If you’re into a sharing style of eating, this is something you’ll enjoy. There’s lots of small plates to begin with and we’re recommended the lump of crispy tiger prawns served with aioli, strewn with wispy flakes, baby octopus, hummus and piquillos (which was more hummus than octopus) and half a dozen rock oysters beautifully displayed in a large dish resembling a shell. I’m not a huge oyster enthusiast, but I certainly see why my friends are, as I tentatively sample their salty deliciousness. Our charming waiter, who is the spitting image of Antonio Banderas when he played Zorro (alas, minus the cape/mask combo), quietly proposes the Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner Austrian White. It’s a winner and pairs perfectly with the light fish.
Experienced Sommelier Branislav Vilimanovic arrives to recommend accompaniments for our mains of fillet steak. His motto, he tells me, is ‘in vino veritas’, which means ‘in wine there is truth’. Hear hear, Branislav! Our steaks are red, weighty and devourable, as are the glasses of Australian Pinot Noir and Château de Ricaud. The charred tomato salsa works fabulously with the meat’s chargrilled smokiness. Sides of crunchy French fries are salty and far too moreish for my waistline. The fine green beans with sweet mustard dressing however, lack a punch. We’re full and decline dessert – although there are two standouts that beckon – the blueberry marinated pineapple carpaccio with fresh berries and mango and hot molten chocolate with pecan. Next time. We close the evening with glasses of Veuve instead.
Bluebird is clearly a hit with its clientele. The makeover may attract new diners but it’s most definitely a neighbourhood venue at its core. The space is impressive – informal yet luxurious, which is a difficult combo to get right yet Bluebird succeeds. They have four private dining rooms away from the main restaurant and bar that are worth noting, ideal for birthday bashes or private meetings.
What we had
Crispy tiger prawns, £12
Baby Octopus, £8.50
1/2 dozen rock oysters, £13.50
Fillet (2), £68
Château de Ricaud, £10.75
Australian Pinot Noir, £10.5
Veuve Clicquot (2), £29
Bluebird Chelsea, 350 King’s Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 5UU; 020 7559 1000; bluebird-restaurant.co.uk