The Buddha Bar delivers Asian fusion for the fashion conscious.
Adjacent to The Bulgari Hotel and around the corner from Harrods, it doesn't get much swankier than Buddha Bar's Knightsbridge location. Unsurprisingly the split-level venue is suitably trendy and as far as drama goes, it has it in abundance – from the burly bouncer on the door to the stage-like lighting and sweeping staircase. With its elaborate Chinese dragons suspended in crystal droplets from floor to ceiling, stepping into Buddha Bar is like embarking into an theatrical West End den; and with an entrance like this, expectations are bound to run high.
Half bar, half restaurant, it's a strange mix of contemporary baroque, meets flashy Eastern glamour. Lights, tones and textures are thrown at you from all directions and one thing it certainly isn't is dull. Not least when it comes to the soundtrack, where anything from Hispanic tango to traditional oriental music and popular dance mixes can be heard blaring from the speakers. The service is super efficient, but with more staff than diners, it can sometimes feel rushed and a leisurely three-hour dinner is unlikely to be on the cards.
Where Buddha Bar has got it right is the food. Sushi, sashimi, salads, tempura, gyoza – and that's just the small plates. The menu is vast and so tempting you'll want to try it all, so decide at the outset whether you'll dine tapas-style or opt for starters and mains. For tapas-style dining, ordering as you eat is a good option. If not, two small dishes to share, followed by a main and side each will satisfy the average appetite.
Recommended is the chilli salt crispy baby squid (£9), a sizeable portion in light tempura batter and just a hint of spice. Sushi fans will revel in the maki selection, particularly those created exclusively at Buddha Bar. Of note is the spicy mango maki with king crab and prawn tempura (eight pieces, £17.50). Pricey at over £2 a piece, but a work of art on presentation and with its creamy zing and moist crab flavours, more than pleasing to the taste buds.
For mains, the spicy lamb rack with cucumber and fennel salad (£22.50) is flavoursome, if small. Overall, the mains are lacking in comparison to the starters in terms of both size and taste. The monkfish in coconut lobster bisque (£27) has promise but is devoid of depth and for just a few discs of actual fish, it would be easy to feel stung at the price tag.
Desserts, though, are a delight, particularly the chocolate and kumquat (like a Chinese orange) pudding with coconut sorbet (£7.50). Essentially a soufflé, it's warming gooeyness and rich coco taste is something akin to a Terry's Chocolate Orange heaven.
With all the benefits from the bar upstairs, the drinks list is varied. Cocktails start from £12.50 including a selection of Buddha Bar signature creations. Given that it's East-meets-West, kicking off with a glass of Champagne (Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé, £15) is a fitting treat and an unexpectedly satisfying pairing. There's also a short but quality list of wines available by the glass or bottle – and of course, sake, for the traditionalists.
The Last Word
Buddha Bar does a lot right; the small dishes in particular are on point and in terms of portion-to-pound ratio, these tapas-style plates are perhaps the best bet. However, there is a slight disconnect when it comes to the experience. While Knightsbridge is hardly known for being unpretentious, the members' club ambience feels a little clichéd. The blaring music selection – eclectic to say the least – coupled with the over-styled décor makes it more try-hard than trendy, which is a bit of a shame as the food is so darn enjoyable.