Hard Rock Cafe in the same week as the disaster at Reform Social, are we off our, err, rocker? Well, maybe, though this post might surprise.
Several weeks back, we declined a PR invitation to celebrate the Legendary Burger at Hard Rock Cafe, but instead, thought we should check it out in our own time, on our dime and so get the real experience. There's not so many blog posts on Hard Rock, I think Chris Pople pretty much killed those dead in their tracks with his devastating assessment back in 2011 (read the post here
). According to UrbanSpoon, this was the first, and to date, the only independent blogger assessment of the place, strange for a restaurant that is so popular, there is almost always a queue and a wait time to get in. Accordingly, it simply has to be worth a look (and after Reform, I'm prepared for anything).
Our conclusion might be surprising to many: there is a genuine and valid place for Hard Rock Cafe in the London hospitality sector in our opinion. To be clear, Hard Rock Cafe isn't a place for food bloggers. It's not even a place for people who read food blogs. And it's certainly not a place for people who can name London's top ten burger joints faster than most people can name their own children. The small amount of food that I tried was bland and instantly forgettable, even as I was still chewing it, but it never scaled the heights of being totally awful. So why then am I being so kind?
The reason that I can forgive them the food is that while sitting there, watching everything with my beady blogger eye, I came to appreciate that HRC had created a proper service culture that puts to shame many a 'better' restaurant. The greeting on the door is a smile and welcome, approach the door and a member of staff is there to open it for you, the staff seem to genuinely like people (it's amazing how many waiters in other restaurants can perform their task professionally but fundamentally don't actually like people).
Nothing seemed too much trouble for them. If you are one of those fussy eaters (the table next to me was - can I have that without the mustard, this on the side, and I don' t like....), the answer from staff was always 'no problem' said with all the appearance of sincerity. Sodas at Hard Rock are 'bottomless': my glass never sat empty for more than 30 seconds before my waiter Erik (we're on first name terms) breezed in to swoop up the empty glass and replace it with a full one. And when one family with two smallish children were leaving, their waitress, who had clearly engaged with the munchkins, walked out with them to the pavement to say goodbye; it all ended with high fives for the little people. For sure, high fives are not what I want as a food blogger, but if I were a parent with children in tow, I'd be thrilled. Perhaps that approach to service (and of course an undeniably impressive rock memorabilia collection) is why my fellow diners were a remarkably diverse group of individuals.
The no problem approach also meant I could order my burger medium rare 'no problem' and that's actually how they cooked it, it just didn't taste of much and the cheese on top was a scary fluorescent yellow. The bacon, and I have to point out that I'm never a fan of bacon on burgers here, there or anywhere, only served to add an unwelcome chew and make it a little salty. To be honest, I didn't bother finishing my Legendary Burger, couldn't really see the point. But if, as most, you're too busy trying to read the inscription on Eric Clapton's guitar to really worry about the shade of yellow of the cheddar, you're in solid company. The meal is something else to do, something to chew, while your attention darts around the room clocking the display: most probably finish their food without realising they've actually eaten something (other than now feeling full up, food quantities are decent enough). And to be properly fair, the food here is if anything better than most available 'pub grub' meals in London that tourists would otherwise find themselves eating and the surrounds are ten times more exciting.
So while I didn't see much point to their Legendary Burger, I did see a point to Hard Rock Cafe. You don't go there for the food, you go there for the experience, and that's why we think it has a place in the London hospitality scene. We've been in plenty of restaurants this year, good restaurants with great food, where the service was not a patch on what HRC offered, so seeing us not wanting to go back. A rude waiter can dampen your day just as much as a shitty burger, sometimes more. So even though I didn't like the food, and even though the place overall is not my thing, they treat you well in a unique surround, and for the majority of people I'm sure, that's more important than queuing for an hour and a half in a quest to discover London's best burger.
the Legendary Burger
endlessly decorated walls
Honest Burgers is clearly out there competing at the highest level in the capital's ever escalating burger wars, but somehow it hadn't really crossed our consciousness thus far. Admittedly that probably says more about us than them, but on recently receiving an email inviting us to try an upcoming special burger (a True Blood burger - an undead cow perhaps?), an invite that we politely declined, nevertheless, it did make us think that we should give Honest Burgers a try. So days later, here we are.
Knowing so little about HB, it was only good fortune that saw us turn up at 5:25 (midweek Soho opening times are 12-4pm, and 5:30-11pm) allowing us to get a table, for by 5:35pm they were already full and new arrivals were told to expect up to an hour's wait. The reality is however that it doesn't take long to pass through and back out the doors of Honest Burgers because it's a focussed operation: beef burger, chicken burger or a veggie alternative. With burgers coming only as a cheeseburger, an Honest-Burger or the day's special, and no starters and no desserts, all but the most indecisive will struggle to order quickly here. Worth noting, they say on the menu that all burgers are served medium unless otherwise requested; our request for medium rare was no problem at all we were delighted to find.
When the burgers arrived, they looked good and tasted good, so very much the burger business. Famously, they source their meat from The Ginger Pig, so one can have full faith in quality. Some places just instinctively understand how to put together a good burger and so it was here. It was excellent from first bite to last. My only point of issue is that the burger is on the smaller side of things (though in the photos below, admittedly, they look pretty huge). While we went there very, very hungry, the burger and chips alone didn't entirely fill us up, and maybe a dessert would have taken us to the finish line, but at Honest Burgers, it is just burgers as already noted, so that's your lot. Given the fact the cheeseburger costs just £8 for a top quality burger, I can't argue against value, but I think I would rather have paid £10 for it to be a little larger. But maybe I was just excessively hungry/greedy that day.
Of late, we have been Patty & Bun enthusiasts, so how does it compare against our favourite? I really enjoyed my meal at Honest Burgers and would snap a future one up in a heartbeat, but as much as I did enjoy it, my P&B allegiance remains intact. I don't know how long the queues and the wait gets for Honest Burgers at peak times, but I am guessing from what I saw this week, that the answer is extensive, so again, as much as I enjoyed it, would I queue an hour or more for it? Great burger then, great price, and definitely worth eating, especially if you can immediately grab a table, otherwise, you'll need to make up your own mind as to whether it's worth queuing for (and clearly many believe it is).
the day's special (American burger)
What a gift. This page is briefly stained by my tears of gratitude. Novelists don't usually have it so good do they, when something real happens (something unified, dramatic and pretty saleable), and they just write it down?
- Martin Amis, London Fields
Three years in to writing this blog, we didn't think we could be surprised; we were wrong. Scattered across the internet is an offer by Reform Social & Grill: lobster & a half bottle of wine for £14 (the offer is shown above, together with a screen-grab of our confirmation email). The siren call of such an offer was too good to miss, so we booked. Return tickets on the Titanic would have been better value. We know why lunch offers are made, loss leaders, the hope of up selling, extras and the spread of fixed overheads across a larger customer base; better to have a full restaurant right? Accordingly, the offer as advertised is good, but not too good to be true (so I thought).
Up front, we should say that the manager Giovanni, after we registered our complaint, came to address our issue and did the best he could; the end result was that no charge was made for the meal. We clashed on ideologies however and ultimately he acquiesced, but then, I was the customer after all. Of course, I think I'm right, but feel free to judge. I liked Giovanni, he was reasonable, but if restaurants were a game of poker, he had just been dealt seven two offsuit, there's only so much you can do with that.
So the deal was this: having booked the above offer, and thinking that I was walking into the Reform to dine on lobster, chips and a half bottle of wine for £14 (I know, I know, a good deal), I hadn't properly read the small print. Despite the headlines, and a confirmation email, I was told on ordering that it was not lobster, but a lobster burger.
That said, as one to take a blow on the chin, and for £14, for a meal that was in any case an experiment, I can live with it, so I shrugged and didn't mind. Lobster burger, £14, hey, why not. The shocker however, the real punchline to this tale of woe, was that the lobster burger was later described as containing exactly: lobster 33%, crayfish 33%, pollock 33%. How was this possibly a 'native lobster burger' as described on the menu? Having expected something like Burger & Lobster's magnificent lobster roll, I was speechless when this bland patty of nothingness arrived. It tasted of nothing, really nothing and how would you possibly verify it even had 33% lobster in, you certainly couldn't taste it. Did I mention, it tasted of nothing?
To recap then, I sat down expecting lobster and chips and now I was eating a pollock burger. I debated this with Giovanni. "it's not a pollock burger" he said. But if it is 33% lobster, and 33% pollock, why is it any more a lobster burger than it is a pollock burger? The logic was damning. If this was a lobster burger, it was equally a crayfish burger or a pollock burger. Of course, lobster sounds better. Crayfish and pollock are only declared by the waitress, not the menu, and even then, not percentages, you are only told that the lobster burger contains crayfish and pollock so the patty can keep its form (and I even missed that, amnesia perhaps, which I can only put down to the shock of a rug being pulled from under my feet).
With 33% lobster, 67% something else, Giovanni informed me "legally, we're allowed to call it a lobster burger". If to your customers you have to resort to "legally, we're allowed to..." then really, you've already lost the argument. I'm a diner, a customer, not a lawyer, and this is not a court of law. The dining room at Reform seats about 60+ people at a guess. My dining companion for the day, @cityjohn
and I were the only two customers in the whole restaurant. Legally then you might be right, but an empty restaurant says your customers don't want to eat this shit. Giovanni tells me au contraire, it's very popular; even after they've eaten it I wonder?
For £14, the wine was not bad, and the chips were good, thick cut and cooked pretty decent, but if I sign up for lobster, and that's the real and only reason I'm here, and the menu states 'native lobster burger', I don't expect to find myself eating pollock and crayfish as 66% of what's on my plate. They have a beefburger on the menu also, should we reasonably assume then that this too is only 33% beef and 66% something else because legally, that's all that they need? Nay.
This was, in my opinion, the most cynical manipulation of a menu description that we have encountered since starting the blog. Had the manager not pointed out that it was legal, and I'm sure he's right (after all, we now get horse meat in crispy pancakes instead of beef), I would have questioned its legality, but as Chapman said as long ago as 1654, 'the law is an ass'.
native lobster burger contains 33% crayfish and 33% pollock, but apparently it is legal to call it a lobster burger
lobster burger (see above)
the alternative meal deal, hanger steak, lots of garlic
Sometimes you book a restaurant days or weeks in advance (or years if you are eating at Dabbous
), at other times, you just walk the streets and see what you find. Four doors down from Pitt Cue is Carnaby Burger Co, and as I passed by, I wondered if they considered it bad luck to be so close to Pitt Cue or good luck that Pitt Cue only holds around 20 people. And in the age of the celebrated burger and lauded chains, how would an independent that nobody blogs about compare. Lunch venue sorted then.
First off, the Carnaby Burger Co is much more than burgers (yes, I was surprised too). As well as starters (including calamari, wings, nachos and more), within the mains there's chicken fillet burgers, hot dogs, and a 'big char grill' offering a steak, steak and eggs, or BBQ pork ribs. They even have a vegetarian section and a salad section on the menu, though admittedly, I didn't look what was on either. On the burger front, there's 9 burger options and a choice of ciabatta or brioche buns. Faced with altogether too much choice and despite entering a restaurant that says 'burger' above the door, I perversely decided to order ribs. Two things steered me in this direction: how would they compare with those I had yesterday at Smollensky's
(which were not special), and how would they compare with neighbouring Pitt Cue
, a placed famed for its BBQ pork.
If my gripe at Smollensky's had been that the ribs had been inadequately trimmed, here at Carnaby Burger Co, I could instantly see from the shape they had done a much better job in this respect so credit where credit is due. The result was that pretty much everything on the rack (ex the bones of course) was edible and when finished, the bones lay in a heap at the side of the plate stripped clean, devoid of extraneous and unwanted piggy debris. There's a little bit of heat in the rub to set a tingle to the lips while the meat itself was moist with the BBQ flavours within, not solely reliant on being smothered with sauce to give impact. Overall then, a pretty good job. Only two small issues arose, first, and slightly trivially, the serving wooden board was barely big enough to hold the contents and one you start having a go at the ribs, food tended to fall onto the table. Second, the glaze on the ribs had at the extremities dried out somewhat and gone hard. Fortunately, this only rendered the end rib on each side difficult to tackle so no big deal really. Most of the rack however was spot on.
This was actually a pretty good rack of ribs, so making Carnaby Burger Co a place I would potentially return to. Eating solo, I didn't get to see the burgers, and that was a shame, but the waitress did tell me that if I wanted a burger, medium rare wasn't a problem. Yay!
Service was friendly, interested that all was okay, but not invasive, and with my ribs priced at £15.95, identical to Smollensky's, today's offering felt so much better. Okay, it's not Pitt Cue but you can get in here and if you can't get in to Pitt Cue, here is where I'm sure many end up: it may even buck their spirits. Finishing with an inexpensive chocolate mousse, I left the restaurant happy and pleasantly surprised.
If a chain of restaurants has managed to survive 25 years in the capital, you can reasonably assume that it's either a) very good, or b) past its sell by date; it's been about three years since our last visit to a Smollensky's (pre blog) and we wondered how it would now seem. The website meanwhile notes Smollensky's is one of the great names in grill restaurants... [and] continues to operate with the same values that Smollensky's flagship restaurant... began with back in 1986...
1986 is a bit early even for us, but I do remember that visiting Smollensky's in the early nineties was still considered an exciting new thing to do for food and a night out. But back then, British food was really quite poor and an American based grill that cared about service and food could shake things up a little. Without doubt however, over those 20 years, food in the UK has been on an inexorable journey of improvement and whether you consider the competition to be Pitt Cue, Red Dog, Byron, Burger & Lobster, Goodman, Bodeans or even Bubbledogs, the formulas that worked in 1986 will need to be considerably updated if Smollensky's is to stand shoulder to shoulder with this new peer group. Sadly, for us today, it fell well short.
A starter of blackened shrimp with creole mayo and lemon wedge (yes, they advertise the lemon wedge on the menu) had no real impact leaving you to wonder if it contained any creole spices whatsoever. A crayfish and mango salad was nice enough, and pleasingly, the salad leaves were fresh and crisp, but a heavy hand on the Marie Rose sauce provided a challenge even for a sauce lover like me.
When the order for the burger was taken, we were asked 'how would you like it done?'. The right question, heaven, hope surges. But then when it was ordered medium rare, health and safety kicked in and we were told medium is as low as they go; hope plunges. The burger was better than expected (we now didn't expect much), but in playing the game 'if Goodman's burger is a 10, what is this on the naught to ten scale'; the answer was a four. Since there is a Goodman in Docklands just five minutes walk away, and a burger there costs £15, the question is actually important. A basic burger at Smollensky's costs £10.50 with £1.25 for each extra topping (including cheese) which means that this £13 burger is price comparable. The dip in quality versus a Goodman therefore is inadequately compensated by a lower price. Patty & Bun meanwhile price all their burgers below a tenner; enough said.
Our other main was the ribs. Among the problems here was that they had not been properly prepared. As About Barbecues & Grilling
says When cooking a rack of ribs, you want it limited to the actual bone section of the ribs. Well above the ribs is a section of meat filled with cartilage, little bones (the Chine bone) and connective tissue... you can also find it by looking for a long line of fat that runs lengthwise along the rack.
As well as lacking basic BBQ flavours (it relied heavily on the sauce for that), and being dry at times, there was simply too much fat and connective tissue for this to be anything other than disappointing.
It left us wondering what the point of Smollensky's now was because it still feels to us like it hasn't moved on from its historical recipe for success. Maybe that recipe still works well with the mainstream, maybe there's enough office parties from the surrounding Canary Wharf area to provide bums on seats, or maybe Canary Wharf stacked only with restaurant chains is itself still years behind the rest of London's food scene. Whatever the answer, we personally would struggle to find a good reason to return.
located in the heart of Canary Wharf
the dining room
crayfish and mango salad with Rose Marie sauce
Blackened shrimp with creole mayo and lemon wedge
BBQ rack of ribs
Open just a few weeks, there's nevertheless a huge buzz immediately apparent on stepping through the door of Jason Atherton's latest (but not last it seems) eatery. Continuing the 'social' theme, this is possibly his most social outing yet and pity any poor business souls who thought they'd enjoy a lunch away from the office and talk shop, for it's not that kind of place at all, it's properly a place to meet friends, enjoy a drink and some truly great food.
While new (the place has undergone a complete refurb), the restaurant has a look in keeping with current dining identities by offering an old, almost rustic look, with exposed brickwork and unframed sketches on the wall, offset by smart leather banquettes and the odd neon sign (mostly around the stairwell). Situated over three levels, in the basement, there's a kitchen that also provides a bar style chef's table which means that you don't have to be a party of eight to dine there. On the ground floor, there's the main restaurant, and finally, if you climb the stairs, there's the 'Blind Pig' bar serving cocktails and bar snacks. The bar in fact has it's own entrance and therefore functions as both an integrated and stand alone venue.
In the kitchen is Paul Hood, Jason's long time collaborator who previously headed up the kitchen at Pollen Street Social, so here, we have a veteran chef who has been a partner in crafting the food message that won both applause and a Michelin star for PSS from the start and can therefore be expected to deliver a similar quality offering here, and he does.
Food here is 'familiar with a twist', and comfort with a lift. On the starters, a BLT has become a CLT (Colchester Crab), "ham egg and chips" uses duck it seems (not tried) and the ravioli of wild boar Bolognaise, something that many a restaurant would be happy to deliver well in its own right goes a step further here with peppered hearts and kidneys. Equally, a smoked Black Angus tartare arrives at the table so smartly dressed in salad leaves that you wonder if they've brought the right plate to the table; of course they have and it's these little extras on the plate take the food on a level from the safe combinations offered in the capital's now ubiquitous brasseries.
It's the same story on the mains: roast Cornish cod, cockles and cream doesn't stop there as others might, providing here additionally kombu and mousseron that shakes things up just enough. Only the lamb neck fillet disappointed and though the combination with sheep's ricotta potato, garlic and parsley sounded good, the lamb was a touch dry and would have benefited from a jus to moisten things up somewhat.
For dessert, the milk chocolate mousse, praline, chocolate eclair and salted caramel ice cream (yes, that's all one dessert) was an overwhelming favourite, with the eclair component especially enjoyed.
With Social Eating House combining an inspiring menu cooked well with informal surrounds, this is definitively Jason Atherton's most social restaurant yet. And with the bar upstairs rather than annexed to the restaurant, these spaces provide two distinct offerings (we will blog the bar in due course) and SEH will in our view carry forward the buzz that we experienced in the restaurant today for a long time to come.
the dining room
the downstairs chef's table
Ravioli of wild boar Bolognaise, Berkswell, peppered hearts and kidneys
Smoked Black Angus tartare, radishes, horseradish, mustard leaf
Roast Cornish cod, kombu, mousseron, baby gem, cockles and cream
Lamb neck fillet, sheep's ricotta potato, garlic & parsley
Milk chocolate mousse, praline, chocolate eclair, salted caramel ice cream
Looking at the pictures from several years back of the grill at Mangal Ocakbasi, they show chairs tucked under a dining counter in front of the open grill situated almost at the entrance of the restaurant, the original kitchen table if you will. But if our visit is anything to go by, I assume a sufficient number of diners had caught fire from the spitting coals for them to stop this dare-devil practice of allowing customers to park so close to the heat that sun block factor 50 rather than a salad was their likely side order of choice. Our table, now pushed back from the grill the width of the walkway, still however took the odd spark but was nevertheless as entertaining as Saturday night dining goes and costing scant more than £20 per head, also among the best value I'd wager.
Ahead of eating here, I know nothing of Mangal Ocakbasi, but it is I have subsequently learned, a London legend; but there again, so according to Google is Spring-heeled Jack and I know nothing of him either. To recap then, the restaurant dates back 20 years or so, Matthew Fort reviewed the restaurant for The Guardian back in 2003 and described it as a place that is 'worth searching out'. Jamie Oliver named it in Hot Dinners as one of his three favourite restaurants in London (so no turkey twizzlers here then), and even Rick Stein is reported to have done a turn behind the grill.
For those in the know, Mangal is the Middle Eastern name for a barbecue and here, the menu is principally lamb, chicken and quail in various kebab forms. Our own choice, the mixed kebab, had a bit of everything on and, I have to say, was pretty damned good. Impressively, everything seemed to be cooked pretty much spot on, nothing over or under done, a fence that many a have-a-go hero of the home BBQ will surely have fallen at. Hats off to anyone who can perfectly cook through a spatchcocked quail on such a grill, especially when the lamb chops arrive on the plate similarly faultlessly cooked. With a queue extending out the door and the grill unable to physically accommodate more meat, clearly, I'm one of the few who do not know of this place's legendary status.
The breads are excellent too though the side salad, while plentiful, fails to excite, but then who really cares, that's just a little relief from the meat onslaught which is the reason to come here and is what sold me on the idea from the start, for who, when Spring comes, can resist meat on fire?
We're seldom to be found in Dalston without a SatNav malfunction, but with a good reason to be there on this occasion, it was only right that we should try a London legend. I'm glad we did, for after a low ball build up by our friend, it nicely exceeded expectations, and genuinely, if such a place were local to us, I think we'd be there often enough.
It might have been open for just a few months, but the story of The Clove Club, the young talents of Isaac McHale, Daniel Willis & Johnny Smith, the Shoreditch Town Hall location and even the micro funding that helped open it seems to have been the talk of the town throughout 2013. Visiting for a mid week lunchtime service, the main dining room is closed and a lunch menu is served in the bar area, but in no way are you short changed on the offering for as we would discover, the food they're serving here overlaps significantly with the dinner menu and is quite frankly exceptional. A five course set lunch menu is available on request though we just ordered extensively from the ordinary menu which provides a comprehensive overview of what Isaac and team are producing in the kitchen.
The restaurant itself is located on the ground floor of the old town hall providing high ceilings, lots of natural light, and very little cooking space it seems, and in the main dining room, all tables provide full views into a very open kitchen. While the dining rooms are both kitted out in a relatively basic style (there are of course no table cloths), everything here seems coherent, with the venue, the service and the food all natural compliments for each other.
The menu does not set out to baffle you with the unusual for the most part, and at lunch, the two main courses are listed as simply as 'duck egg, English asparagus & morels', together with 'house sausage with peas, borlotti beans & smoked onion puree'. Couldn't get more simple, eh? The 'house sausage' however gives another insight into style here as cured hams and sausages etc are all now being made on site. Far from the hispter image conjured by the press, this is a place with cured hams hanging under the staircase, so is better seen as a kitchen in genuine pursuit of skill, knowledge and production of food, and most certainly not a trend or a fashion, even if the trendy and fashionable choose to eat there. On our visit, guests seemed normal enough.
'Simplicity' in the menu in the very best restaurants implies maturity and confidence, in the idea, the produce and in turn, the final product. It's more often about taking things away than adding them and a chef knowing there's nowhere to hide, no gimmicks on the plate yet still knowing and believing that's good enough; it's horribly difficult to achieve. At The Clove Club, it's achieved faultlessly, and seen in every dish.
First out the kitchen is radishes, black sesame & gochuchang (a Korean savoury condiment). You might wonder from the description alone how they can wow with this dish, but they do. The dish could easily fail from the very start if the radishes were less than perfection, but you're instantly sold. The plate offers contrasts, not least in the blacks, whites, yellow, red and green, an artists palette almost, while the textures you'll encounter are already visually clear (you're told you can eat the leaves too, which we do, mopping up the gochuchang). It reminds me a little of the heritage potatoes and onion ash served at L'enclume, the usually bit part radish now getting a starring role. It's quite an achievement.
The same is true throughout, the buttermilk fried chicken, already something of a signature dish, is scrumptiously divine, but offers too in its fry a light touch, you could almost believe it to be healthy. The wood pigeon sausage, served only with 'Ten Bells Ketchup' shows the aforementioned skill, brilliantly done balancing out fats, flavours and textures to produce something seemingly unique. We struggle to think of anywhere else we've posted to the blog that delivers anything similar: only Isaac's former kitchen, The Ledbury comes to mind. More food came, the standard din't once drop.
A lunch time bar menu maybe, but still a tour de force. And if The Clove Club is part of a new British food scene, the future is very bright indeed, allowing you to feel that British food is now very real, something in its own right and not merely doctored French or Mediterranean with a sprinkle of domestic influence. Vibrant, exciting, original, The Clove Club is everything we hoped it would be (and nothing we feared it might).
radishes, black sesame, gochuchang
buttermilk fried chicken & pine
wood pigeon sausage & Ten Bells ketchup
Rye crackers, fennel & oak smoked cod's roe
home sausage with peas, borlotti beans & smoked onion puree
duck egg, English asparagus & morels
French strawberry tart and sheep's milk sorbet
Prune ice cream, prune kernel and rosemary sorbet, walnut praline and cakecrumb
their fantastic barman
their own sausages and meats
meats in progress
chef Isaac McHale
Brasserie Chavot is the recent restaurant opening from the much lauded former two Michelin starred chef of The Capital Restaurant, Eric Chavot. The new venture is however something of a challenge for two reasons: first, the space the restaurant occupies is in The Westbury Hotel and even though it is essentially a stand alone site, it has proved a difficult one in the past with the previous restaurant there, The Gallery, closing within months of opening. Second, the concept, a brasserie, seems to have taken over in 2013 from ubiquitous burger openings in 2012. How much do we really need another brasserie we wonder?
Our overall verdict on Brasserie Chavot is that the food is very good indeed, while the venue struggles to be charismatic and the service is a mix of haughty arrogance, condescension and patronising tones. Authentic then in the sense that some some people visiting Paris would rather eat at a McDonald's than endure trial by brasserie waiter.
But the positives first. Prices are reasonable and the menu choices extensive with most tastes surely covered. Half a dozen oysters for one starter at £11.50 is something of a bargain (at our previous day's disaster Roast
, they cost a full £16.50!); for that, here at Chavot's, you even get a crepinette also. A ceviche of scallops meanwhile was excellent, offering lovely freshness with the ingredients, acidic zing together with the perfect balance of chili heat, all on a sunbeam of a presented plate.
Mains were a steak tartare which is among the best we've encountered during the years of the blog, and a 'filet de canette a l'orange', young duck that was tender, well cooked and seamlessly integrated with the orange in the dish. One side of frites, easily enough for two people, were crisp and enjoyable.
On desserts, more of the same, perfect classics with the best Ile flottante I can ever remember having as well as rich and decadent profiteroles. So far so good then.
As for the venue, Brasserie Chavot has inherited a room that was expensively attired in its former life as The Gallery and clearly the powers that be were (understandably) reluctant to rip this out and start again from scratch. But mosaic floors, chandeliers, table cloths, dark wood and red leather gives a strong impression of fine dining and a formality sits over the room that seems to inhibit joy. Made worse, on our visit, with less than half a dozen tables filled, such a large space seemed to suck the very air from the room.
This could have been ameliorated by the waiting staff but they seemed more formal yet. Toss out the words 'relaxed' and 'friendly' to them and they would surely have to reach for a dictionary. They seemed less than impressed with our request for tap water; bread, which is sold here as extra (£2.25) was pushed on us several times 'will you be wanting bread with your main course' (still no), and on one occasion, one of my largest pet hates, the waiter turns his back and walks away from our table all the while finishing the sentence addressed to us. On desserts, with one of us having ordered Ile flotante and the other profiteroles, the French waiter says to both of us that he cannot understand our French/English, would we repeat the order. Even with the poorest of enunciation, how badly can you mangle the world profiteroles, and could he really have confused the word with the limited number of other dessert choices like cheesecake? Was he toying with us perhaps, getting us back for tap water and no bread? One of the few occasions where we begrudge the mandatory 12.5%.
Overall then, we have no complaints about the food or the price of the food, it was delicious and, offering quality of that level, good value also. The room overall we felt struggled, and there were few touches to lighten the load. The room's real salvage should have been the staff, but they missed that trick by a Gallic mile. When the food's this good, staff have to go some way to ruin things but somehow they managed to.
formal table settings, mosaic floor
ceviche of scallops
fillet de canette a l'orange, caramelised endives
Our lunch at Roast was sadly disappointing. Despite a menu that reads well and a position at the heart of Borough market that implies top notch ingredients that should sing, we found the food mostly bland, but sometimes worse. Where this really rubs us the wrong way however is that the food at Roast is seriously expensive. Of the two mains chosen, the lamb was £26.50, the duck £26.75. These plates however come without sides so add a further £4.50 for roast potatoes, or £5.50 for 'gem hearts' salad (as we did) and our main courses are north of £30 each. By comparison, the lunch prices at The Ledbury (source www.theledbury.com) are universally £32, and that includes Loin and neck of lamb with rosemary curd, artichokes, sunflower seeds and garlic. Visit Roast for lunch then, and expect to pay the same price for your main course as The Ledbury. Accordingly, it ought to be good: it wasn't.
Starters are around the £10 mark though steamed asparagus with hollandaise sauce was a whopping £12.50. We chose a chicken and wild garlic broth with Judas ear fungus and a poached pheasant's egg (£7.75) that came as an insipid looking bowl of an insipid tasting liquid, the egg fully submerged. It made little sense and offered little reward; in turn, little was eaten. Heritage tomatoes on toast (£9.75) was okay though failed to deliver a taste sensation, you know the one that even a home grown variety offers when the flavour bursts in your mouth putting the supermarket generics to shame.
While the duck on one of our chosen main courses was at least tender, even if a little overcooked and under-seasoned, it still seemed poor value at £26.75 against a better example delivered at Brasserie Chavot the following day that was a comparative bargain at £19.50. The lamb however, a white knuckle affair, was poor value at any price. Our waitress to her credit, on enquiring if 'everything is okay' handled it as best she could and of her own volition, sent the manager to our table. The sinewy remains left on the side of the plate bore sufficient witness and the item was removed from the bill. Roast potatoes, billed as cooked in beef dripping, remained more waxy than crispy such that there was no single dish that we were able to point to and say 'well at least that was good'.
In sum then, it was a failure all the way down the line, with two dishes that were okay but not special, one that was poor, and one that was returned to the kitchen. The full price of this meal, with only a single diet Coke in addition to the above noted food, came in at £84 (£68 after the lamb was taken off the bill). A dessert each would have easily pushed it over £100 and that's still without drinks/wine. Roast then seems to us more of a play on the location than a play on food. Charging Mayfair prices, Michelin star prices, the offering should be memorable; well, it is memorable, but sadly, for the wrong reasons.
Chicken and wild garlic broth with Judas ear fungus and a poached pheasant's egg
Isle of Wight heritage tomatoes on toast with basil and shaved Berkswell
Roast breast of Goosnargh corn fed duck with star anise infused whipped cauliflower and a sour cherry sauce
Roast rump of Launceston lamb with a crispy potato and ramson cake and pea shoots
the lamb was tough and sinewy
beef dripping roast potatoes