Are you a film buff? Do you love US food? You can combine the two at Planet Hollywood, a salute to the silver screen in the heart of London.
Planet Hollywood is vast, a huge barn of a place. And right from the moment you walk through the door — when you come face to face with a rather anorexic-looking Terminator — you step into the world of movies. Around the walls, and set into the windows, sits a raft of movie memorabilia, including Indiana Jones’ whip and chalice; the lamé suit from Goldmember (no one said it was going to be classy); John Travolta’s leather jacket from Grease, and Arnie’s head from Batman & Robin, when he played Mr Freeze. The Starship Enterprise, presumably scaled down, hangs from the ceiling. It’s worth walking round the entire restaurant, trying to match every item to the correct film. If you’re lucky, you’ll be seated in one of the booths round the outside, with your own personal piece of movie history next to you.
Not surprisingly, the place is jumping. It’s school holidays so children abound, but that is probably par for the course, and there looks to be a fair number of tourists - again, par for the course. The music is loud, but not unbearably so, and the rather utilitarian tables and chairs in the middle of the restaurant are well filled. Staggeringly attractive wait staff whisk up and down the isles and the service is surprisingly (for the size of the place) efficient. Massive screens show music videos and clips of films and every so often they flash up messages from diners to their loved ones, texted from their table. A little kitsch, maybe, but there nothing wrong with that. This is Hollywood!
Heaven knows what the table-turning target is, but no one seems hurried. And though you may surmise that the food is not the star attraction, it's not bad at all. The menu reads like a cast list for a summer blockbuster — it’s that long and detailed.
There are 12 starters, including a mammoth platter, if you can’t make up your mind. The Texas tostados (£7.95) comprise four mini tortillas loaded with barbecue chicken, sautéed onions and two types of cheddar, served with sour cream and a tangy pico de gallo — a fresh tomato and onion salsa. The tostados feature on the platter (£18.95), along with buffalo wings, chicken crunch, parmesan spinach dip and potato skins. What it doesn’t include is the blackened shrimp, which is well worth trying. Six marinated jumbo shrimp (or prawns, if you prefer), are peeled (with tails left on for less messy eating), pan-fried in cajun spices and served with a creole mustard sauce for dipping. At £12.50, it’s an expensive starter, but you shouldn't feel short-changed.
In fact, all the food at Planet Hollywood offers value for money, primarily thanks to the sheer generosity. There is quality there, too. A full rack of ribs is fairly hefty, and the sauce - lavishly applied - is tangy as advertised and the ribs themselves juicy and full of flavour. You’d expect this sort of place to do a terrific burger and so it proves. The barbecue bacon variety (£11.95) is topped with hickory smoked bacon, barbecue sauce and sharp cheddar, with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Like the ribs, it comes with excellent skinny fries. There is the option to double up on the patty for £16.50, but only the very greedy should really consider such indulgence.
Gloriously over-the-top desserts — this is an American chain, after all — include an excellent strawberry cheesecake (£6.50) and an alluringly named chocolate brownie super sundae, served in a giant Martini glass (£13.50). A rum baba (£6.75), as delightfully retro as it sounds, is sadly less successful. The baba itself is light and fluffy, but the syrup in which it is drenched tastes slightly chemically and woefully synthetic. It is whisked away without demur and replaced almost instantly with a white chocolate bread pudding (£6.50). This is neither as stodgy nor as sweet as it sounds and comes with a punchy bourbon sauce and whipped cream.
What sort of movie would it be without a cocktail? Planet Hollywood has an extensive selective, including old favourites and some in house creations. One of these is Blue Crush (£7.50), a blend of vodka, Bacardi, Blue Curaçao, tequila and lemonade. It is a rather lurid blue — the bright azure of a Beverley Hills swimming pool, perhaps — but is deliciously refreshing. Amongst the old school options is a Long Island Iced Tea, with a kick like a mule. Still on the movie theme (it’s hard to avoid), there is something called The Terminator — vodka, gin, Bacardi, Cointreau, Kahlua, sours, cranberry juice and draught beer. It certainly sounds pretty terminal.
If you can come back from that, among the wines are a decent Finca Valero Macebeo at an equally decent £15.95 - excellent value given the location and the venue, with a red Garnacha/Tempranillo equivalent at the same price. The wine list is fairly succinct — something of a relief given the choice elsewhere — and house champagne is Lanson, at a not unreasonable £49.95 for Black Label or rosé.
The Last Word
Planet Hollywood isn’t the place to go if you want fine dining. It’s all about the experience — the buzz, the memorabilia, the vibe and the fun. And while the food may not be the top billing, it's not a bad supporting cast.