My wife and I dined at these much-discussed places the last 2 Saturdays.
BRICCO (the disappointment)
We arrived ontime for our 6pm reservation at Bricco and were seated upstairs. The room was nearly empty, with one couple at the table near the window. Of all the seats in the room, we were plunked right beside them, and this was literally 8 inches away. No reason for this when there were so many other seats available.
The waiter was very helpful, explaining the dishes and making great wine and entree recommendations. When I asked about an appetizer-sized portion for pasta, he assured me that a full size portion would not be too much. And so I ordered the $22 fettucine carbonara. Not bad, but nowhere near the best I've had and nowhere near the smallest I've had (it was actually far smaller than he smallest, including appetizer 1/2 portions). My veal chop entree was passable, but, like the appetizer, had nothing to really distinguish it other than the ice cold carrots and potatoes. I can't remember what my wife had, but she was equally disappointed. We decided to cut our losses and skip dessert.
The atmosphere and service (aside from the seating gaffe) were excellent. The combination of only OK food, tiny portions and high prices was not acceptable.
* * *
HAMERSLEY's (the success)
All of the staff were pleasant; our waiter was particularly friendly. His description of the frisee salad sold me. The salad was loaded with lardons (rendered bacon) and a tart vinegarette with warm fried egg on frisee. The signature roast chicken, which I had to order after hearing so much about it, lived up to the hype. Crispy skin, tender inside, and lots of herbal broth to soak the chicken in for extra moisture/flavor. Nice frites and caramelized onion. My wife's mixed green salad and soy salmon were excellent. I noticed a few other fish dishes at a neighboring table also well prepared. The wines by the glass were more a little limited, but we enjoyed our choices.
For dessert, I tried the warm apple and cheese in phylo dough with caramel sauce and pink peppercorn ice cream (yes, that's right). A lot of flavors to balance, but the execution made it all work. After the first few bites, the novelty of the ice cream wore off, but it was a great burst of creativity. My wife enjoyed the cheese course with four different cheeses and fruit.
Overall, a very pleasant experience with warm service and excellent execution from the kitchen that, unlike Bricco, more than justified the prices.