Food ruined by an existential crisis: Fallow reviewed

12 March 2022

9:00 AM

12 March 2022

9:00 AM

I was going to be jolly this week, for variety and denial, but I changed my mind. Instead, I wonder if, when Vladimir Putin – insert your own nickname, mine is unprintable – talks about the weakness of western civilisation (I paraphrase) and, therefore, our unwillingness to resist tyranny in the shape of a balding paranoiac unwisely given Botox by a beautician who lied to him because everyone lies to him, he means Fallow, which is a new restaurant in St James’s.

I wonder if Putin has been to Fallow wearing a prosthetic head and, if so, did he do the soft launch or the hard one? Did he steal more hair? He has stolen so much money from Russia he could afford a room full of prosthetic heads each with their own hair. (You can buy hair on racks at wedding shows.)

Kim Jong-un likes to visit Disneyland in Tokyo – there is even a ‘Westernland’ – so why shouldn’t Vladimir Putin visit terrible London restaurants to sample our decadent cuisine and measure our weakness, like taking a pulse?

It was so promising: well, almost. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the name. Names are important, and fallow means dormant. Fallow (Dormant) is part of St James’s Market, a gleaming shopping centre with many restaurants for the spuriously credulous and rich. It promises ‘creative cooking and sustainable thinking’ and ‘conscious creativity’ from alumni of Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, which is possibly another clue. I don’t mind deranged PR babble – ex-journalists have to eat – and I have eaten ‘salvaged’ (that is ‘zero waste’) food before, at Ugly Butterfly on the King’s Road, before it landed in Carbis Bay – and liked it, or rather I managed to finish it, even if I would prefer rich people to practise less performative dining and consume less carbon instead. (Rich people consume most of the carbon. Who knew?) But that would be too simple. That would make sense.

Fallow is handsome. It is slightly rustic and slightly industrial, like a cow turned into a light fitting: sleek surroundings for your salvaged meal. We have passed the stage of eating remnants in rooms staged to look like food banks or greengrocers, so the interior is soothing and monied, staffed by charming young men, and it is filled with people thrilled to be eating moral food for £50 a head because the alternative is doing something meaningful.

We have corn ribs, which are corn on the cob sliced, over-seasoned, burnt and ruined. We have a mushroom parfait: a great gloop of over-smooth grey matter. We have a blue cheese and black garlic bread, which is inedible; a pile of cabbage, black garlic and chestnut, which is also inedible; a dairy cow burger which is over-seasoned, and seems somehow depressed; and boulangère potatoes, which taste as if they were cooked in a cauldron of medieval fat and are also burnt for harmony. I won’t type out the rest of the menu, but it is insane. Whipped salmon belly? Why?

So, this is food ruined by what seems like some sort of existential crisis tinged with a terrible vanity and self-deception, and, worse, everyone seems to love it: it has an armful of awards. If Vladimir Putin does come here in his prosthetic head and new hair to sample our decadence, chased by his Botox nurse, he will find it real indeed, and made of cabbage. Perhaps Fallow is some great and over–ambitious metaphor for waste? Or perhaps it is just waste? We leave and go to the National Gallery to look at the Rembrandts. What else is there?

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Fallow, 2 St James’s Market, London SW1Y 4RP;

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