My evening at Malmaison started off in a promising manner. On arriving in the basement restaurant of the prison-turned-glamorous-hotel, my guest and I were greeted by every member of staff that we passed, and shown to our table across the velvet-clad room. The general ambiance was excitingly plush, and we looked forward to the meal ahead. Bread with oil and vinegar and a bowl of beautiful multi-coloured olives arrived quickly and were simple and delightful. Unfortunately, the meal went steadily downhill from there.
Having stated in my booking request that I follow a vegan diet, I was surprised when the waiter expressed extreme incredulity in the premise. 'No fish?! No beef?!' he cried. 'Oh dear,' I thought. I was informed (after he had come to terms with the idea of my not eating delicious steak) that the mushroom burger on the menu would suit my requirements. My guest ordered the tomato torteloni and a side of spinach. For a starter we had a beetroot salad made to look like beef carpaccio. It was light and tasty, and I could avoid the cheesy sauce poured all over it.
My meal came in a brioche bun (not vegan) with tartare sauce (not vegan). I sent it back and he said he'd check with the chef that these elements were vegan. In the meantime, we were left with the spinach, which I tried. It was so salty it hurt my mouth, and the sensation remained for the next couple of days. My guest agreed; it was objectively inedible. The waiter came back with the same mushroom burger in some plain white toast. He told me he had asked the chef and it was now a vegan meal. It was surprising, then, to find when I bit into it that the burger tasted strongly of cheese and had the stringy consistency of melted cheese; it was full of cheese. I flagged down a different waiter who finally showed some sign of comprehension and alarm. All the food on the table was whisked away and we started again.
The risotto they brought me ten minutes later was fine, and my guest did enjoy her pasta, which was plain but well made. Incidentally, the spinach was again inedible, so that wasn't just a slip-up.
They didn't charge a service charge and our bottle of wine was removed from the bill, and the meal came to £52.80. The waiter gave us a little guided tour of the hotel and former prison rooms which was sweet but sadly too little too late.
I understand that my veganism can be hard to cater for; that isn't the part of the experience which is worrying. The problem was that the waiter continually pretended he'd understood or that he knew what he was talking about and then demonstrated that he hadn't, and neither had the chef. They did nothing to make me trust that they had any knowledge or competence in any area of their service, not just in serving vegans. I think they hoped that I wouldn't notice every time they brought me food that didn't meet the dietary requirements I had requested. Especially for such an expensive meal, it's really not ok. I'm afraid I can't recommend this restaurant for anyone, least of all for anyone with any special diet requests.