There’s something deeply reassuring about a restaurant with a number for a name. It is understated, practical, solid, stately. There is no borrowed continental filigree, or ego boost shout out to the chef; no faux-homely ampersand stuck in the middle. There’s a New Yorker’s directness to it, like numbered streets, or the 21 Club. 34 Mayfair. This is our name, and it’s also where we are. Come see us. We’ll be here. Have a seat. Have a drink.
Inside the restaurant itself — which sits, with happy reliability, on 34 Grosvenor Square — things are given a preppy, sporting twist by the waiters’ waistcoats: silken and embroidered, in shades of green and gold, with a ‘3’ on the right half and a ‘4’ on the left. Flat race jockeys bearing meat and martinis. And meat and martinis, in essence, is the name of the game here. In an earlier, simpler time — before wellness or email or obligations — 34 Mayfair would have been a honeypot for five-martini-lunchers all over town. They’d come here at 1pm and eat exquisite steaks as thick as cash stacks, and tell stolen jokes and snooze.
Now, perhaps thankfully, the pinstripes have left — but the steaks very much remain. Perhaps it’s the perma-hungry adolescent in me. Perhaps it’s my Texan heritage. Perhaps it’s my sheer heft. But whenever I see a restaurant menu with a big, bold, clear boxout in the middle marked ‘FROM THE GRILL’, I breathe a boyish sigh of relief. We’ll eat properly today. There’ll be no emulsions or foam or falderalls here. We’ll choose our sustenance by the kilogram, eat more than we ought to, and never fear food envy from the table next door. At 34 Mayfair, the boxout in question dominates proceedings, like Central Park to Uptown Manhattan — two thirds of well-placed menu real estate, in magazine-grade serif type. They leaven the beefiness of things with a touch of ‘Rotisserie’ experimentation: along with the usual suspects — USDA Fillet; Chateaubriand-for-two (allegedly); Scottish Cote de Boeuf — there’s a Korean BBQ spiced spatchcock chicken, and a slow-spun Iberico pork shoulder with smoked pinto beans. It is brilliant in its sultry, soft meatiness.
But there’s a lightness of touch here, too, should you need it. Seared scallops with broad bean and chorizo salsa were excellent and precisely done, as was a devon crab with apple and a Bloody Mary jelly — booziness, perhaps, is never far away. But can you blame a boy? At the moment, the restaurant’s in the thick of its Palm 34 bacchanalia — a fizzy, playful homage to the Jet Set of Palm Springs, somewhere in a hazy, half-forgotten mid century. There is a refreshing, zippy Palm Springs Iced tea — with Malfy Rosa Gin, white penja pepper cordial, Darjeeling tea and a fist of lime — which rehydrates before it dehydrates. And a 34 Palms confection — zesty gin softened by apricot and grenadine — which makes the room sway happily like a boat off Capri.
It all adds to the slightly wistful nostalgia of the dining room here, which — for all its modernising burrata salads, which are lovely, by the way — seems to be from a better place and another time. The white shutters on the interior walls remind me, somehow, of French childhood holidays, and the service has that warm, classical quality of the grand European Brasseries of the 1920s. Even the hand-painted, watercolour artwork on the cocktail menu might be the inner leaf from a handsomely bound print of obscure, mid-century poetry. 34 Mayfair is meat and it is cocktails, and it’s excellent at both. But it is classic and it is timeless, to. And in a ghastly year like 2021, that’s the highest praise we might heap on any restaurant.