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The Stamford Plaza was the last word in sophistication when it opened, as the Regent, in the 1980s. Smug yuppies and teenage sharebrokers flocked to parties laden with wannabe celebrities.
Plenty of other flash hotels have opened since, though it's hard to keep track of their changes of name and livery. I never knew there were Pullman hotels until the name Pullman appeared on the side of the hotel that used to be the Hyatt that used to be the Intercontinental.
In the Stamford Plaza, what was once a cavernous lobby behind a registration desk is now a lobby bar. It is sheltered from the street by a wall, but it still looks like a lobby bar. The enormous television screen showing sports rather detracts from the couth factor; on the other hand, the television screen is split into quarters by large black lines, which will annoy sports fans, so it's an equal-opportunity irritant.
Perhaps sensing that I hate split screens and the Professor hates sport, they seated us close to the kitchen behind a pillar that conveniently blocked our view of the screen. It also gave us an excellent view of the chefs as they repeatedly banged the bell summoning a waitress to pick up a meal.
Then we needed only turn around to see all the waitresses, gathered at the cash register in a conclave that was almost Vatican in its intensity, oblivious to the ringing bell.
It was highly entertaining and in tintinnabulation-free moments, we could amuse ourselves by studying the large cylindrical jars of coloured lentils and beans on the breakfast buffet, which were very fashionable at those parties in the 80s.
It was just as well, because we had a bit of time to fill in. The place was almost empty but our drinks order - a tap beer and a bottle of San Pellegrino - had to go to the man in that split-screen sports bar, and he must have been busy pouring sweet sherries and shandies for the league fans because it took ages to arrive.
In the meantime, a waitress approached us with a jug of water and, being told that we were waiting for a bottle of San Pellegrino, suggested she pour us a couple of glasses anyway.
Perhaps she knew how long we still had to wait.
She was followed by a third waitress, who was very keen to take our food order even though we hadn't wetted our whistles. We thought it best to comply so we'd be home by bedtime.
As to the food, it was ordinary, without ever being spectacular, particularly considering the prices: the tiny $20 entrees are only a couple of bucks cheaper than the French Cafe's and most of the mains are in the high 30s.
I found the pasta in the handmade tortellini starter quite perfect, thick and al dente, but the filling (braised duck and wild mushroom) was very plain and the light and summery orange puree didn't work at all with the rich dark meat. The Professor said her layered avocado and goats cheese paté was "adequate", but again the accompaniment - a tomato and olive confit - seemed to jar and the brioche was devoid of spirit.
Mains were more successful: my veal scaloppine, like tiny schnitzels, with a mushroom risotto were excellent and her lamb loin was perfectly pink.
It came with baba ghanouj, crumbed bocconcini and spring rolls of shredded lamb shank, which were lovely, but seemed, in her words, "like a whole lot of beautiful things that didn't have anything to do with each other".
Desserts of baked cheesecake and tarte citron were also quite acceptable, although the presentation had the highly decorated grandiosity typical of hotel kitchens.
In all, though, it was unremarkable for the price - which was made palatable only by a two-for-one deal.
In a part of town only a few steps from the Viaduct and Britomart, this place would do well to think more laterally if it wants to pull diners who are not in-house guests.
Verdict: More foot soldier than knight