All over the world, the luxury – both in terms of money and time - of sitting down at a table (not a desk, or a countertop) for an hour or more, to eat a midday meal without hurry, is something fewer and fewer humans can entertain. It’s lunchtime as I write and, five minutes ago, I shoved some hacked-off cheese pieces and torn rye bread onto a plate, no time even to assemble the stray hunks into sandwich form, and have been shoving these dry bits into my mouth intermittently. With precious little pleasure.
This is a bad way to eat, for so many reasons.
But there you are. Lunching on the trot is the way it is, more often than not. Even if sitting happens, we often choose a place which keeps the sense of action going, instead of giving us a break from it. Sure, that’s always been part of al fresco eating – see and be seen – but somehow a restaurant on the Via del Bufalo in Rome does not invoke the same enervating frazzlement as an all-day eating hub in a mall.
If you can get yourself to Hyde Park Corner (yes, really), there’s a spot far from the madding you-know-what, which will pretty much ensure you take the actual time for an actual lunch, with cortisol levels lowered. Run past all the mall-mob eating spaces and head for Luce in the Tsogo Sun hotel. The hotel’s been there for many years, glued to the mall’s north-west side. The restaurant has too but it’s recently under new chefdom.
I’ve always been in two minds about the space but on this visit I settled on liking it: the elevation, minimalist décor and top-to-toe-glass façade makes it feel a bit ’80s airporty, which is never a bad thing. It’s also anonymous and nowhere. And sometimes that’s exactly what you want. Thank all the deities the food, on the other hand, does have a definite personality. Executive chef Grant van der Riet is only a few months into the job but there’s nevertheless a solid signature to his dishes.
Playing – but not too much – with traditional Italian (if that is not too broad a description) his food tends towards the simple and focuses on a few good flavour combinations per plate, with zero fussiness. He’s not chasing cool, not looking too hard at what the boys with tattoos and tongue rings in Cape Town are doing, and that makes him way cooler. There are a few flaws in execution, as Van der Riet gets to grips with his new kitchen team, but those are being ironed out.
The spinach-filled tortellini with smoky tomato sauce was hearty deliciousness, as was a blissfully simple burrata salad with macerated tomatoes. I could happily eat that for lunch every day. The confit duck leg with egg ravioli was carefully executed and restrained. The sushi options are still available and the quality has definitely improved.
There’s a swanky glass-walled wine room which I didn’t make use of (I was not that relaxed, clearly), but even sober, the space and food combo at Luce is a welcome tranquiliser.
For more info go to www.tsogosun.com or call 011 341 8137.