There is something rather naughty about Sax. The name alone, although a reference to the instrument, invites more licentious thoughts. Maybe it’s the pink strip lighting lining the full extent of one wall that, while a convenient titillating pun, conjures up images of a red light district. Or perhaps it’s the venetian blinds across the front windows, the semi-obscured view creating a clandestine feel. Possibly most overtly, it’s the risqué artwork by “pop artist” Mike Francis, whose paintings fall in the nebulous area between art and soft porn.
But I think the sexiest thing about Sax is the food, the well-thought out menu offering an alluring range of grown-up food prepared from sophisticated ingredients, competently executed and immaculately presented.
Our amuse bouches, tiny squares of bread topped with cubes of foie gras, whet the appetite but certainly didn’t sate it, such that I ordered the foie gras maison with cherry compote (£9.50) to start. Prepared in-house, this was sheer indulgence – smooth liver marbled with fat, the richness tempered by the sweetness of the fruit. Undeterred by the thought of foie gras overload, the Bloke would have had the caramelised foie gras with apple tartlet and cassis sauce were it not for the fact that the fresh liver had sold out the day before, and is only delivered from France once a week. Instead, beef carpaccio with endive fleurette and truffle dressing (£7.95) was a worthy alternative. The purple endive leaves, much sweeter and milder than the more common variety, made an arresting bed for the thin slivers of meat.
My main course, an open lobster ravioli with bisque velouté and caper noisette butter (£13.95), comprised generous chunks of shellfish sandwiched between fresh pasta sheets, smothered in a velvety sauce, enriched with cream and egg yolk. I wasn’t quite convinced by the caper noisette butter – maybe it was one rich addition too far, and left the dish feeling a bit heavy. However, we couldn’t fault The Bloke’s Barbary duck breast with roasted garlic and red wine jus (£14.95) as the meat was impeccably cooked and the flavours sublime.
We’d had a hard time choosing, as many of the dishes sound equally good. We hesitated between venison on herb mousse with braised cabbage, apple confit and pink pepper sauce (£18.95), or lemon sole with spinach and shrimp butter (£15.95). Vegetarians are also catered for, with tempting choices such as saffron risotto with asparagus and spring vegetables (£7) to start, and aubergine and mixed pepper gateaux with olive tapenade (£13.95) as a main course.
The wine list combines both old and new world, but is weighted towards younger vintages, ranging in price from £14.95 for the house white or red (very drinkable Michel Laroche chardonnay and merlot respectively), to £48 for a bottle of Nuits St Georges Jean Chauvenet 2000 burgundy.
To finish, we ordered crème brulée (£6) – served in a shallow dish to maximise the crunchy sugar topping – and banana tatin with vanilla ice cream and rum sauce (£6), which had first-rate buttery pastry, but was a little light on the rum.
So, Sax is naughty but nice. Besides, it’s good to feel naughty once in a while and if you want to stay up past your bedtime too, Attica nightclub is just downstairs.
– Tracy Yam, 2/2004