Lucky Cat prowls into Mayfair
While promoting white-water thriller The River Wild in 1994, Kevin Bacon casually remarked to Premiere film magazine that he had “worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who’s worked with them”. Shortly after, a thread appeared somewhere on the internet entitled ‘Kevin Bacon is the Center of the Universe’. It claimed that the actor’s varied career proved the legitimacy of the Six Degrees of Separation theory.
Pick any actor, the online post posited, and you’ll be able to plot a path to Bacon in six or less connections. How exactly the Footloose-heartthrob-turned-4G-poster-boy became the cult face of the decades-old acquaintance algorithm – it was thought up by a Hungarian author in 1929 – only the internet will know. Whatever, however, the game blew up. A book was published. Bacon was even persuaded to write the intro.
A decade or so later, ‘Bacon’s Law’, as it became known, got the backing of some boffins at Microsoft. After studying billions of electric messages, the tech giant calculated that any two strangers are distanced by an average of just 6.6 connections. How destiny chooses to arrange these connections can result in some truly unlikely quirks of fate.
Take, for example, the single street in suburban England that spawned 12 table tennis champions during the 1980s (Silverdale Road, in Reading, in case you were wondering). Or, how an impoverished Moscow tennis club produced more top 20 female players between 2005 and 2007 than the whole of the United States. Separation theory, or rather acquaintance theory, might also explain how a tiny cohort of culinary confrères were able to create the most successful dining concept of the past 20 years. The story of London’s upscale Asian boîtes goes something like this.
In 1999, inspired by the runaway success of New York’s Japanese restaurant Nobu – which had landed in London two years earlier – Hong Kong-born Londoner Alan Yau opens upscale Cantonese venue Hakkasan in a back alley just off Tottenham Court Road. Yau employs German chef Rainer Becker as a consultant, who, knowing a business opportunity when he sees one, promptly goes off to set up high-end Japanese joints Zuma in Knightsbridge in 2002 and ROKA on Charlotte Street in 2004. The quartet of swanky Asian eateries remain the hottest tickets in town, even after Yau opens Sake no Hana in St James’s in 2007 and ex-ROKA chef Jeff Tyler helps launch Japanese-Mediterranean mash-up Novikov on Berkeley Street in 2011.
The following year, Sushisamba opens on the 38th and 39th floors of Heron Tower. City boys and girls no longer need to schlep to Mayfair to get their sweet, sticky black cod fix. In 2015, however, everyone piles back to W1 when Zuma alumnus Bjoern Weissgerber opens Sexy Fish in Berkeley Square. In 2016, it’s off to Sloane Street where Flavio Briatore – a man who has made a career out of cashing in on the lifestyle trends of the one per cent – has launched Japanese-Italian party restaurant Sumosan Twiga.
By the time Briatore poaches Kobe-beef specialist Cláudio Cardoso from Sushisamba in 2018, you’re probably thinking ‘surely London has reached peak Nikkei?’ (That’s Japanese food fused with Peruvian). But no. This year saw Gordon Ramsay jump on the bandwagon with Lucky Cat, a restaurant directored by Flavio Pensa, previously of Zuma, and helmed by executive head chef Ben Orpwood, formerly of both Zuma and Sexy Fish.
Ramsay was reprimanded for describing Lucky Cat as “an authentic Asian eating house”. Small plates from Burma and Mexico apparently amounted to cultural appropriation. Our beef wasn’t with the menu per se, but with the fact we’d seen it at all before. Same food, same format: sushi and sashimi, buns and dumplings, snacks and skewers, sweet chops and spicy cutlets, all served izakaya-style, where dishes are fired at you in rapid succession at a pace that feels rushed. The upshot of the aforementioned incestuous recruitment process is that all of London’s top Japanese restaurants have merged into one.
Some of the food at Lucky Cat – the pork belly, maitake mushrooms, seared scallops and duck dumplings – is delicious. Some of it is not: the prawn toast was burnt, the pea tempura tasteless, the chicken satay completely bland. Nervous waiters arrive in pairs, as if to reassure one another, answering questions unconvincingly before nervously stabbing orders into iPads. The process feels cold. Chopsticks are the cheap takeaway type; the menu is a flimsy pub-like single sheet of paper. The décor and DJ just about save things, but can’t distract from an overall feeling of ‘meh’.
If you’ve ever been to one of London’s other fancy Asian fusion venues, you’ve already been to Lucky Cat. And in today’s hyper-connected world you don’t need to know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Bacon to tell you that.
10 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London, W1K 6JP 0207 107 0000 gordonramsayrestaurants.com