In a hangar-sized yet semi-deserted Batman-themed restaurant, a letter is placed on my table while I await a £15 serving of citrus-cured salmon with a fingernail-sized portion of caviar. “Dear Guest of Park Row,” it reads, “I do fear the worst has come to pass.” It was a tiny touch of drama in a supposedly Gotham-styled dining experience, but its message was not wrong: the worst had indeed come to pass.
It was Saturday lunchtime at Park Row, just off Piccadilly, and despite Warner Bros’ Batman franchise being one of the best-known brands in modern civilisation, Charles and I were one of only four other tables who’d opted to eat there. Why was that, I wondered. OK, I’ll cut to the chase: I know full well, and in such vivid detail that I called my editor during my £26 main course of champagne and black truffle risotto – which smelled of silage and polythene – and demanded 3,000 or 4,000 more words to document my dismay at this bewildering, slapdash nonsense. Warner Bros seems to have sanctioned a Batman restaurant without any actual mention or sighting of Batman, and that instead offers a menu that’s costlier than The Foyer at Claridge’s and serves drab renditions of dover sole à la grenobloise for £44 that even a hedge-fund manager in an advanced state of refreshment would spot as a massive, cynical waste of money.
Park Row is neither a jolly themed restaurant for children and the young at heart, nor is it a destination brasserie for tourists with dollars to burn. Rather, it is an absurdly shoddily staged sort-of Batman experience that never, ever mentions Batman. Oh, sure, Gotham’s presence lurks in cocktails called Beyond the Gates and Three Bridges, and in desserts with names like Riddle Me This (I’ll solve that riddle straight away: it’s a caramelised apple with hazelnut sablé). Still, before coming here, I’d envisaged a steroid-fuelled Hard Rock Café mated with a slick, Warner Bros theme park ride, whereas what I found was more comparable to those incredible failing grottoes that open in the UK each Christmas, where the elves smoke Marlboros behind a foam-spitting snow machine next to a donkey with conjunctivitis that makes the kids cry.
The entrance to Park Row is mysteriously almost unmarked. You enter through a rather clever fake but quaint British library, then you’re chivvied down a dark, uninteresting spiral staircase, before waiting by the maître d’s desk in a restaurant called Pennyworth’s. “Pennyworth’s restaurant and bar is an undisputed art deco masterpiece and pays homage to the Wayne family’s faithful butler,” the blurb on the website says. By this point, any semblance of intrepidity and wonder had long melted away.
A manager in a vaguely Gotham-themed velour outfit that seemed to have been picked off his bedroom floor an hour earlier stood with his back to us taking phone calls, while a large, fake ice sculpture of a penguin farted out dry ice. All the staff were Dignitas-level unhappy; hell, even the gang at the London Dungeon look more chipper, and they have to wear stick-on boils and tempt people in to watch reconstructed executions. Once we were finally seated, the floor staff delivered that mysterious, aforementioned letter about Oswald Cobblepot’s new restaurant.
And … well, that’s it: the Batman “experience” is practically over before it’s even started, and you’re essentially left eating the worst type of cruise ship food in a cavernous room where the other diners catch your eye to share a silent scream at the £36 plates of lukewarm, undelicious fallow deer. While we ate, the staff busied themselves by noisily moving an epos terminal, until I eventually asked if now really felt like the best time for a spot of DIY, what with us having already run up a £146 bill without even ordering alcohol. “We need new space for the till,” I was informed blankly.
Dessert was a take on chocolate orange cake styled in peaks and points in shades of black and called The Ruins of Gotham City. It was pre-made, dry and loveless, but it made quite a nice photograph. If I had to find one pleasant thing to say about our lunch, the £8 side of truffle mac and cheese was definitely warm and edible, which is more than can be said for the mushy, stone-cold £6 steamed broccoli that went back to the kitchen untouched.
I’m not an ardent Batman fan, but I still can’t work out if I’d be more or less upset by Park Row if I were one. I did, however, spend my childhood engrossed by another superhero by the name of Scooby-Doo, who in numerous episodes turns up at a run-down theme park ready to face monsters and adventure, only to conclude, every single time, that the gang had just met some begrudging employee in a silly costume. Yikes, Scooby: same thing.