July, London W1: ‘A sort of M&S meal deal for Coutts cardholders’ – restaurant review

<span>July, London W1: ‘Cooking lunch is a bit of a faff, isn’t it?’</span><span>Photograph: Safia Shakarchi/The Guardian</span>
July, London W1: ‘Cooking lunch is a bit of a faff, isn’t it?’Photograph: Safia Shakarchi/The Guardian

July, an Alsace-inspired restaurant, is a lovely idea, which is how all restaurants begin. Nobody, back in the blue-sky-thinking days of opening a joint, has ever planned to open a stinker. Restaurants are perilously expensive ventures. Pop stars KLF may once have burned £1m on Jura, but at least they got to go to bed afterwards. Hospitality, however, never sleeps, so if, like Solynka Dumas and Julian Oschmann, you are burning money by opening a 44-cover, all-day German/Swiss dining experience at the hectic end of London’s Charlotte Street, you’ll be pretty tied up.

The pair’s new restaurant in the heart of Fitzrovia is decked out in sumptuous, sunset-hued suede and leather, and offers a list of low-intervention wines that’s apparently curated by that wine-world name du jour, Honey Spencer. July also splashed the cash on employing someone to take lovely snaps of its Alsace-themed fantasy menu, including yummy-looking breaded deep-fried munster , pork terrine, herb dumplings in broth, exquisite salads, lamb hearts with green sauce, and white asparagus with ham and hollandaise. The dreamy list goes on: at weekends, I’m told, there will be whole Fosse Meadow chickens with homemade mayo, which I imagined as a bit like Bob Fosse chickens, having danced wild and free, and built up plenty of lovely, tasty flesh.

Dumas and Oschmann may never have run a restaurant before at any level, but, according to the marketing spiel, they loved having friends over when they lived in Berlin and are in the business of “thoughtful hosting”, which apparently means that July is “a real passion project, born out of a shared love for entertaining, and using hospitality to create connections and long-lasting memories”.

Absolutely no lies were told there. My two visits were truly unforgettable. My first error was to visit on a Tuesday lunchtime and expect to eat any of the aforementioned delicious Alsatian offerings. There was only a small, punchy menu of four items, one being that well-loved classic, sourdough baguette filled with chunks of cauliflower, for £12.50; or a lilliputian portion of cheese tarte for £12. There was also roast beef and horseradish baguette – the real taste of Alsace – and a miserly slice of hazelnut cake smeared with chocolate spread for £8.

My guest necked a walnut old fashioned – very good, sweet, powerful – to quell their disappointment. “I do apologise,” I said, staring puzzled at my cauliflower sandwich. “I thought they served, well, food.” Apart from one other person sipping wine, we were the only guests. There is possibly a connection between the harrowing dearth of clientele and July’s decision to offer only weird, unappetising, hard-to-chew, overpriced baguettes at lunchtime. It’s a sort of M&S meal deal for Coutts cardholders on some type of high-fibre purge. I sympathise with them, though – cooking lunch is a bit of a faff, isn’t it? People will turn up, be a nuisance, and spoil all that thoughtful hosting and long-lasting memories.

On the Saturday night, I return for dinner with a different guest, because the first one was no longer speaking to me, hoping to experience the full majesty of Alsatian cuisine. We are, again, the only guests, other than a bunch of hedge-fund types drinking low-intervention wine on the terrace outside. A lovely server brings us the food menu, which is, again, brief. There’s the fancy chicken to share for £45, served with salad and spuds, as well as – hooray! – that deep-fried munster. There’s some not great trout rillettes with thin, spindly croutons, and some very mustardy devilled eggs. Puddings are the miser’s hazelnut cake again, and a crepe.

The cheese arrives uncooked. It’s just a slab cut from the block and served with a few pickles. Lighting the stove is clearly too arduous. Then the chicken arrives. “This is half a chicken,” my guest says on seeing one breast, one leg and one wing in a bowl of thin jus with a small bowl of forgettable pink fir potatoes, some wilted greens and a bowl of salad.

At this point, the two owners appear, wearing their coats and wishing their meagre clientele all the best for our evening, before disappearing into the night with the hedge funders outside. Joyful memories and great connections were definitely created that night, just not in Dumas and Oschmann’s restaurant, where I sat wondering where our other half a chicken had gone and why my crepe was cold.

July has become a real bugbear to me: the restaurant that existed only in the minds of its owners and the people they paid to conjure it up. Dumas, whose family have a major stake in the French luxury brand Hermès, can clearly afford not to care if her restaurant thoroughly disappoints its customers. She can even afford to upset me, because I am but one small woman asking for her cheese to be fried. And for the amount of money sloshing about this passion project, she can definitely afford to send out whole chickens.

  • July, 10 Charlotte Street, London W1, 07498 905 392. Open Mon-Fri 8am-11pm, Sat 9am-11pm. From about £45 a head à la carte at dinner, plus drinks and service

  • The Comfort Eating with Grace Dent podcast returns on Tuesday 11 June. Find the latest episodes here