Meat and eight veg in a carvery which doesn’t quite live up to its salubrious setting.
The Rubens Hotel is a grandish edifice with uniformed doormen on sentry duty outside, five minutes walk from Victoria station, with Buckingham Palace looming at the end of the road. Walk into the lobby and you find yourself in the high-ceilinged hush of a plush four star hotel; tiptoe through a gleaming bar with a subdued atmosphere and you’re in the Old Masters Carvery. The Carvery is offering special menus for Christmas and New Year's Eve.
The atmosphere is slightly unreal. The lights are bright, slowly revolving fans hang from the ceiling, there are mirrors everywhere, and as a token gesture to the restaurant’s name, a few still lifes adorn the walls – unfortunately though, they’re rather drab. Diners are sparsely scattered around, outnumbered by empty tables, and the only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. It feels a little like the self-service restaurant on a cruise ship, or perhaps a wedding buffet where half the guests haven’t turned up.
You get three courses for £25.50, or two for £20.50, a fairly decent price for the area. Eat as much as you want from the starter buffet, which includes a rather rubbery and cold barbecued chicken wings; a mild, inoffensive coronation chicken which lacks kick; a decent potato salad made with firm, waxy potatoes; a slightly chilly mozzarella and tomato salad and an overly salty seafood chowder.
Of course, a carvery stands or falls on the quality of its meat. For the main course here you are offered a choice of turkey or roast rib of beef. The great fear with carveries is always that the meat will have dried out under the hot lights, but both the turkey and beef are pleasantly moist and you get two good thick slices. Unfortunately though they lack richness and depth of flavour and are disappointingly bland. The choice of vegetables is wide, but unspectacular. The gravy does not taste of anything much and it’s impossible to tell whether it was made with stock from the turkey, the beef, both or neither. Desserts - pecan pie, trifle, apple tart - are ok, but on a recent visit the cheesecake wasn’t fully defrosted and contained tiny ice crystals.
The wine list offers a choice of 11 whites and eight reds, ranging from £19.50 to £30. A cherryish Montepulciano d’Abruzo at £23 is a good partner for beef. Unlimited tea and coffee are available.
The Last Word
For a four star hotel in such a swanky location, this is disappointing. Although it’s a good price for the neighbourhood and the food is on par with an average pub carvery, for Buckingham Palace Road you expect more.