The Lalee is a slightly confusing place. As in, after I visited in early spring, I spent several weeks being confused about how I feel about it. Nestled in the notoriously posh area that is Belgravia, the restaurant belongs to The Cadogan, a suitably notoriously posh hotel that greets visitors with a tartan-clad doorman and has a private park only accessible by hotel guests with a key card (a feature that has arguably annoyed me more than anything else, as someone who deeply cares about public access to green spaces and who just wanted a sit-down in the park before their meal – really, guys?)
The restaurant is said to be inspired by one of The Cadogan’s past residents, British socialite Lillie Langtry. Langtry, who was also an actor and producer, has a rather rich and fascinating history. She rubbed much more than just her shoulders with royalty, having conducted affairs with Albert Edward, who later became King Edward VII; the Earl of Shrewsbury; and Prince Louis of Battenberg, who became Admiral of the Fleet Louis Alexander Mountbatten – the maternal grandfather of Prince Philip.
Fun fact: you may have also seen her face if you’ve ever picked up a bar of Pear’s Soap in TK Maxx, as she was the first woman to endorse a commercial product. Langtry was also said to have been the inspiration for the character Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes, and had a fictional theatre named after her, located on Mr Burns’ estate, in an episode of The Simpsons.
As you might expect, modeling a restaurant after someone with such an illustrious reputation comes with high expectations. The Lalee promises “sophisticated European cuisine reflecting the refined tastes that seduced Lillie on her travels”. So when I finally stopped seething about the park being closed to non-guests of The Cadogan, I entered The Lalee expecting nothing less than grandeur.
But aside from the chandelier hanging imperiously above the dining room, The Lalee’s interior appears anything but grandiose. There are art deco bevelled mirrors alongside floral jacquard-backed chairs as well as leather ones, and single-legged tables that wobble slightly. However, any reservations about the decor fly out of my head when an impossibly handsome waiter tells me he will be taking care of me this evening and what a lovely evening we are having, can I bring you a drink whilst you wait for your guest?
Peeking at the cocktail list, I ask my charm-your-socks-off waiter to recommend me a drink and he brings back the “Rome-groni”, a coffee-infused negroni so strong that my eyelids fly open at the first taste and I cannot help but exclaim: “Cor!” He chuckles and tells me to take my time with it as it’s a “sipping cocktail”, as though he thought I was about to gulp it down and order three more.
The cocktails are well worth the £15 price tag, then. My guest arrives and we set about ordering starters and mains, particularly intrigued by the promise of tableside theatre with the Caesar salad. A twice-baked Montgomery cheese souffle catches our eye, as does a burrata and tomato salad (a combination that can do no wrong, if you don’t think about the carbon footprint of burrata for too long). We forego the tableside preparation of beef tartare for the lamb chops – which ends up ultimately being a mistake.
The starters are a treat and we quickly demolish the airy, cheesy souffle and the brightly flavoured tomatoes, their tartness tempered by the milky soft cheese. Easy to eat crowd pleasers, washed down by a delightfully crisp white wine suggested by The Lalee’s knowledgeable sommelier. Please don’t ask me the name of the wine though – I am terrible at keeping records of wines and my bar is admittedly set too low for someone who enjoys reviewing restaurants. Suffice to say it went down easily and with pleasure.
A waiter comes round with a somewhat rickety-looking table to perform the making of the Caesar salad. He whips up the garlicky, anchovy-rich salad dressing in front of our eyes, tossing it through rather large Romaine lettuce leaves and crunchy croutons. Overall, a delight to watch and eat, although I suspect the Dover sole or beef tartare, the other two dishes that are prepared tableside, may have made for more dramatic theatre.
But the lamb chops are where we were really let down: £28 for three teeny-tiny cuts of lamb. And I really do mean tiny, they wouldn’t even have touched the outer edges of my palm. Small portions for disproportionately large prices are always a risk one takes when dining in a hotel restaurant, but this took the biscuit.
Speaking of biscuits, the time had come for dessert. A chocolate mousse with chocolate ice cream and a glass of tiramisu (which is no longer on the menu) rounded off our meals. The dessert menu threatened to be “scandalously sweet”, but I was glad to find this wasn’t the case – however, they didn’t blow my mind either.
All in all, The Lalee is a perfectly pleasant place to be if you’re passing through the area and have got some of that sweet tourist dollar to spend. The cocktails are especially good and I would probably just order the whole of the starters menu to share with the table rather than any of the mains. But I can’t help but feel that Langtry would have turned her nose up at the distinct lack of glitz, glamour, and scandal, no matter how much the restaurant insists on using her brand.
The Lalee, 75 Sloane St, Chelsea, London SW1X 9SG | 020 8089 7070 | thelalee.co.uk