The new Planet Hollywood is a different world
This is the new Planet Hollywood. Call it PH.
Those are the letters on the outside of the London Planet Hollywood, which recently relocated from Trocadero to Haymarket. The PH follows a logo branding scheme that started when the Orlando-based company opened the Planet Hollywood Casino and Resort in Las Vegas.
But more has changed here than a mere logo.
The look and feel of the place is different, too. It’s more industrial and decidedly more casual. Yes, the old Planet Hollywood was casual, too, but the London version is casual almost to the point of being clinical. Part of that might have to do with this particular location, which appears to be a converted office or retail spot. It has a certain industrial look.
But it also seems to be a change in direction for the putatively movie themed restaurant chain. A manager told me the goal was to make the new Planet Hollywood more modern, more “adult.” Some of the changes make good sense.
For example, the bar is now upfront, just as you’d find in 99 percent of the restaurants in the world. It invites people to come in for a drink even if dinner isn’t in the plans. But for all the Planets, the bar is usually upstairs, away from the front area. Better to make more room for the merchandise area.
But then here, the merchandise shop has been greatly reduced. If the open area were enclosed it would barely be a walk-in closet. That seems counterintuitive to me. I had always assumed that places like Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe had restaurants only so there would be a place to sell t-shirts. I suppose you can still sell t-shirts from a small area.
In fact the whole restaurant is small, much smaller than any of the other Planets Hollywood I’ve visited, even with its 272 seats. (Don’t use the Downtown Disney PH as a guide; it’s unusually large.) The Haymarket Planet is mostly on one floor, and you can see the rest of the dining room from just about anywhere you’re standing. There are a couple of other dining areas, mainly for groups or private dining, on a second level, more of a loge to be precise (one of those areas is meant to be an upstairs lounge for the bar but was not yet finished when I visited). One of those areas is called the British room and features a carpet with a Union Jack design.
Downstairs, in the main dining room, a paneled door can be utilized to enclose a space for another banquet area. That’s the Bond Room, and the panels of the door have bigger-than-life-sized photos of James Bonds over the years; the interior images are the Bond women from various films. That’s a fun touch that goes directly to the theme of movies and is at the same time very British.
There are fewer memorabilia about the new restaurant. My table was next to Sylvester Stallone’s boots from one of the Rocky sequel’s that were displayed in a window to the outside, and the window next door had the chalice from the Indiana Jones movie. But the decor does not feature item after item as the other PHs do.
There is no central big movie screen but rather several flat-panel televisions and a couple of smaller projection video players. These are controlled by a VJ who stands on a platform over the dining room.I was glad to see many of the videos were musical numbers from movies rather than just music for music’s sake. The VJ is able to activate video cameras to broadcast images of diners throughout the restaurant.
The diners can interact with the VJ as well via kiosks placed in the room. They can request songs or send a message to announce a special occasion they would like announced.
The kitchen is now open to the dining room but is not a central focus. The menu still has some familiar items, such as the big burgers they did so well in the past, and the chicken crunch that is famously made with Cap’n Crunch cereal.
But there is now a section of pizzas and another, for some reason, of Asian dishes (It’s listed as Chinese on the menu, but pad Thai is not Chinese).
My friend and I started our meal, which fittingly was on the Fourth of July, with a sampler appetizer platter that included the chicken crunch, Texas tostadas, chicken wings and spinach dip. The dip was delicious, and the wings were, well, wings. I liked the tostadas, too, though they did not resemble anything in the familiar Tex-Mex oeuvre. The platform was doughier and the toppings had some sort of creamy sauce, but they were tasty. The chicken crunch, however, was dried out and flavorless.
The pizza was good, but again did not resemble any pizza known in the colonies. The crust was almost wontonlike, thin and crispy. But there were plenty of topping and it all worked together.
My friend’s classic burger was big and thick, although it apparently was impossible to have it prepared to the requested medium-rare. Still, it was very good and deserved the title "classic." I wanted to try one of the dishes from the “Chinese” menu, so I selected the crispy beef, which featured small nuggets of meat that had had the life fried out of them, then doused with a sticky sauce. It was a pretty miserable dish.
The serving staff seemed confused and I noticed several try to deliver food to the wrong table. And even when they found the correct table they stood to auction the food rather than place the proper dish in front of the person who ordered it. Perhaps there are still kinks working out in the new location. But I’m still impressed these many ears ago that Robert Earl opened his Orlando Planet Hollywood on the day he promised, even with construction going up to the opening day. That meant the wait staff didn’t see the new restaurant until the day it opened, yet they all managed to act professionally. That showed good training. I couldn’t imagine that staff being allowed to work on the floor with food-stained neckties as was the case in London.
Still, for all the missteps, the staff was amiable and helpful, even managing to wish me and my friend a happy Independence Day.
The new Planet -- the new PH -- is a different production from the old model. That may just be a reality of the new world, the new economy. But in the past, even during the Great Depression, movies were a source of escapism from the realities of the world outside. Shouldn’t a movie-themed restaurant continue that tradition?