Situated between the ever-fashionable shopping hub of Carnaby Street and affluent Regent Street, Central and Co is a chic bar and brasserie from the Urban Leisure Group. A sister to successful restaurants such as The Elgin in Maida Vale, the restaurant (Central) still feels as though it needs to pinpoint its identity a year after it opened, but its near-hidden experimental bar (the 'and Co' aspect) is the ace up its sleeve.
Central, the restaurant, is a compact but well-planned space, with the restaurant's frontage opening entirely to spill tables and chairs onto the street outside. It’s a little confusing at first as there doesn’t seem to be a specific spot to meet the staff except for the bar at the back, but the space is nicely decorated. Arty, geometric lights hang from the ceiling, nicely offset by the neutral dark grey paint. The artwork on the walls is weirdly compelling, with modern works hung amongst large mirrors.
It’s a sleek space overall, especially in the bar area, where chilled refrigerators set into the wall up to the ceiling display intriguing bottles. The exposed brick walls, painted in shabby-chic fashion with white paint, give a great sense of space even though the tables are fairly closely placed together. Downstairs, the often-overlooked bar is a dimly lit but interesting space, with colourful seats and a gorgeous marble bar. All the alcohol (part of their specialist no-brands concept) is stored in beautiful decanters behind.
From the outset, it is clear this is a place for the wealthy twenty to thirty somethings to come after work to celebrate; numerous bottles of prosecco and Champagne are being served to small tables of twos and threes. The staff are pretty funky, casually dressed in a nonchalant but fashionable way. Not many guests are here to eat beyond the small plates, so the vibe is definitely more bar than restaurant, but it’s a lovely haven in the warm weather for shoppers.
It’s apparent midway through the main course that, whilst the food is done to an acceptably high standard, Central & Co is primarily a bar, not a restaurant. The menu has a nice variety to it, with a concise selection of dishes divided into small plates, main courses and desserts.
Starters are dishes of quail breast with autumnal vegetables and pan-fried king prawns with fennel in a bisque sauce. Though cooked well, the flavours are nothing beyond the expected - the menu seems to aim high with descriptions, but doesn’t really inspire on the plate. The presentation is well-executed, though.
The main dishes are better, with the 10oz rump steak surprising with its tender taste. The twice-cooked chips are good, too. The blackened chicken breast and crispy bacon dish, accompanied by wilted spinach, is hearty but like the starters, without any real innovation.
Dessert, unfortunately, follows this theme. Glazed English strawberries with marscarpone and an almond crumble is served in a lovely stemmed glass, and whilst the fruit is juicy and the marscarpone fresh, the crumble is a little bit too hard. The warm dark chocolate pudding is decent, though perhaps might benefit from more of the Braeburn apple purée. Both are garnished with basil, which – while aesthetically pleasing – doesn’t marry too well with the dishes themselves.
Here, Central and Co shows its true colours. The white wine, an intriguingly named 2010 Charles Smith 'Kung Fu Girl' Riesling, is delightfully fruity and clear. The red, an organic 2011 Côtes du Rhône from Les Isles is smoothly rich and matches well with the darker meats. Both are excellent choices for the menu.
The pièce du résistance for Central and Co, though, is its spirits bar - the first un-labelled bar in the capital. The idea is to serve drinks based on their flavours rather than their brands, and the beverages are described and sorted in the menu according to their flavours (i.e. sweet and spicy). It’s a really great concept, and with the excellent mixologist/bar manager at the helm, it actually lives up to its expectation.
Guests can choose from a glorious selection of rums, vodkas, absinthes – any spirit conceivable, essentially. The bar will add to the flavour with liqueurs, vermouths, bitters and mixers, formulated to your particular taste. The cocktails are a knockout, with the Corpse Reviver No.2, seriously good - a perfectly mixed delight with a green absinthe hue.
The Last Word
Central and Co’s strength definitely lies in its beverages, with its secretive bar being a truly excellent place to dabble in new a spirit experience. However, the food is only satisfactory; good for a brief stop in between shopping or after work, but not really a gourmet experience by itself. Visitors should have a few small plates, a cocktail and some wine for the best experience.