On a hot summer's day, is there a better way to spend a lunchtime than sitting outside Medlar watching the King's Road go by? You actually have to be pretty lucky to do this, not only because we seldom get good enough weather of course, but because there are only two tables: today we got lucky.
From the moment you walk through the door, they do everything right, with staff always pleasant and courteous while hugely attentive even on small things, like constantly providing fresh ice for our glasses of tap water; on a hot day, such a thoughtful touch is charming and is no doubt one of the reasons why Medlar has become such a favourite of so many people. The menu meanwhile is exciting, and feels fresh and original, so hard to do, but achieved very much because they are doing their own thing, that we applaud. Starters can take you from the very adventurous (calf's brain), through the interesting (confit skate), to the comfortable and familiar (crab raviolo). Only in our post meal research did we find out that the duck egg tart made Time Out's Top 100 Dishes in London.
We opted for 'roast cod cheeks with morteau sausage, fresh borlotti beans, runner beans, courgette and gremolata' as well as the 'confit skate with razor clam vinaigrette, purple sprouting broccoli, globe artichokes, Jersey royals and salsify'. As we tucked into our plates, we both arrived at the same conclusions. When we subsequently enjoyed our mains, the five considerations that defined our starters also seemed apt. Our thoughts were as follows.
First, each dish presented a lovely collection of ingredients on the plate: the combinations and variety were a fantastic showcase of what's good about food. Second, the portion sizes are substantial, my skate starter was only a couple of Jersey Royals short of being the size of a main course elsewhere. Third, the presentation reflects the quantity on the plates, so expect towers of food, and sauces that fill bowls rather than squeezy bottle dots of puree on the side. Fourth, this in our view actually led to an imbalance of ingredients and again, considering the skate starter, I initially thought they had brought the wrong plate to the table for I couldn't see any skate, hidden as it was under the artichoke and broccoli. Fifth and finally, while the food was always good, we felt that it lacked the depth to be great, mostly through under-seasoning, sometimes through lack of contrasts such as acidity on the plate. Salt and pepper is not provided on the table, surprising given that even London's very best like The Ledbury and The Square do provide this, which means that you've got to be pretty damn sure your seasoning is spot on when you serve the food; today, it missed that final lift in our view.
You can see what else we had below, and desserts were pretty fab, especially the chocolate pave, which surely must provide a normal person's weekly ration of the brown stuff. We should also note what tremendous value the menu presents, where at lunch, three courses will set you back just £26 which has to be considered very good value whatever our reservations noted above, even more so when you think that this is in Chelsea.
So the Medlar experience then, in our view, depends on your expectations. If your visit looking for good food, great service and value for money, it's hard to see how you would ever be disappointed, but given that some national newspaper reviews have built up the reputation of Medlar as being somewhere that will deliver you food perfection, you might we think feel a little short changed. But overall, there's much to like about Medlar and it's an original and exciting menu, and at these prices, we can understand why for many, it's a go to restaurant.
roast cod cheeks with morteau sausage, fresh borlotti beans, runner beans, courgette and gremolata
confit skate with razor clam vinaigrette, purple sprouting broccoli, globe artichokes, Jersey royals and salsify
Wild turbot with ginger, musgroom and soy broth, white asparagus, pak choi and prawn dumpling (£4 supplement)
Roast poussin with sauteed spatzle, caramelised shallot, pied bleu and cauliflower puree
Chocolate pave with malt ice cream and barley brittle
Walnut tartlet with creme fraiche sorbet and freshly grated coconut
We almost walked out of Forty Dean Street after ordering, which would have been a first, but in the end we decided to persevere and pray that we would not regret it. With the weather being remarkably hot and sunny currently, Forty Dean Street has both full frontage windows that open the restaurant up to the fresh air and three tables outside where you can really enjoy the blue skies and sunshine. It's a reasonable venue choice then when you want to enjoy the best weather day of the year, and it's open all day which is still not as common in Soho as you might expect.
With one of the outside end tables already occupied, we chose the other end table, and while the table itself was, lets be generous here and call it raggedy, it had also not been wiped down from the previous customers and the sticky surface, visibly soiled, was in desperate need of a clean. Staff acknowledged that we had sat down and brought us menus; they didn't however wipe the table down and in the end we had to ask them to do so.
When they did wipe it down, it was just with a cloth, no sanitising spray or the like, so ensuring whatever was on the table was further dragged across the entire surface. After that, they placed our cutlery straight onto the table surface itself. Finally, one of the forks they set down for us had been through the dishwasher cycle but had not come out clean but that too had clearly escaped them. At this point we had a serious discussion about leaving.
We knew already the food would have to be pretty spectacular to really recover from this and of course, it wasn't. To be fair, the Antipasto with Italian Cured Meats, Pickles, Pecorino Cheese and Bruschetta was actually pretty good and had the hygiene issues not arisen, we could imagine ourselves advocating stopping by here on a nice day for a sharing plate and a glass of wine as a decent enough Soho hangout. The main courses (spaghetti vongole, seafood risotto) we considered average. Not terrible, nothing to rant about, but nothing to shout about either. We both reached for the salt to add a bit of seasoning, but this was basic food with limited possibility to lift it at the table with a pinch of anything.
With the pasta priced around £14, it represented poor value versus local competition. Combine that with the other issues and we were happy to make a speedy get away without even a thought of dessert.
antipasto cured meats to share
The Prospect of Whitby is my favourite pub in London which pretty much makes it my favourite pub in the world. In my earliest days in London, I'd happily walk a couple of miles to drink here on a Sunday night passing half a dozen other pubs on the way because I've always felt The Prospect to be special. In Winter, a real fire keeps you snug inside and you don't want to leave; in Summer, there's a riverside terrace or if you're really lucky, you can nab the balcony that overhangs the Thames and drink alongside their famous hangman's noose. Outside and in, it's a beautiful pub with as much character as you'll find anywhere, character that comes with 500 years of history.
The menu here is extensive and the website divides it into miniplates, burgers and grills, fish and chip shop, pub favourites, pie shop and sharing plates. We generally are wary of anywhere that tries to do too much and it certainly suggests a big bought in component. Now, the POW is a Taylor-Walker pub, and when I bring up the TW website, it reveals 112 locations for their pubs. The first pub on that list is the Leicester Arms, Piccadilly, and they show an identical menu to the POW. Next up is the Rose & Crown, Stratford upon Avon, and they show an identical menu also. Indeed, the menu is the same at all 112 Taylor-Walker pubs as far as I can see from my web research.
There's nothing wrong with this of course, it ensures a consistent quality and ensures nothing goes too wrong in any of the pubs. The downside is obviously that you'll never find a hidden gem (when it comes to the food) and it is closer to re-heating than cooking. The corporate centralisation was evident in my meal despite choosing the least risky options: a prawn cocktail to start, ham egg and chips for my main. The food wasn't too bad because centralisation ensures minimum standards, but it is very much a place where you eat because it's local or because you like drinking there, which of course I do.
What was really great to see however was the attitude of the staff, who demonstrably cared about me as a customer and still cared about the food (staff were unaware that I was a blogger, just in case you're thinking). Peter, one of managers there and who looked after me on my visit was friendly, courteous and thoughtful enough to even ask if my eggs were cooked okay (they were). The pub then may not have options on the food, but the environment they create is their choice and the friendly tones they set left me loving the Prospect of Whitby as much as ever when I left that day.
The food here is what it is, a consistent standard set across all Taylor-Walker pubs, but the Prospect of Whitby itself is unique, a pub with a heritage that has been enjoyed by generations of drinkers (including Pepys and Dickens) and is without doubt a fine place to spend a few hours drinking whatever day of the week, whatever month of the year. You might not make a special journey to eat there, but hand on heart, we can fully recommend you make a special journey to drink there. It's simply the best pub in the world.
a very pretty pub
inside, this is how a pub should look (and check out the floor)
ham, egg and chips
Using Google Streetmaps to locate Restaurant Story helps only a little bit, for while it places you in the right area, it fails to show Story's swanky new building, instead picturing the former drab brick convenience with a sign above that reads "Restaurant Opportunity All Enquiries". And while this area on the south side of Tower Bridge has enjoyed a food renaissance over recent years not least due to Jose just down the road, it's still a brave choice to open this kind of restaurant here for it is an area that has never, and probably never will, have the label 'trendy' attached to it.
The restaurant however is very on trend: think Roganic, Dabbous, Viajante and Bubbledogs Kitchen Table (where like Knappett, Sellers has worked at both Per Se and Noma). Even at lunch, there's only a choice between a six course or a ten course tasting menu, something that has not always worked well with busy - must get back to the office - London diners but Restaurant Story is fully booked a good month ahead, so it's clearly working here. And during the meal, we're told that each dish has a story (of course), based upon nostalgia and childhood memories which seems to be the norm also these days. I wonder whether a 26 year old having nostalgia as a muse is a little odd while further reflecting that Tom's childhood is located in years when many of the diners would have been in their thirties, possibly with a child of their own.
But what an achievement. When I was 26, I think my responsibilities extended no further than the photocopying and I can only imagine the pressure of being so prominently thrust into the public gaze. But for all that, this is a very smart and competent restaurant with some amazing cooking taking place and can leave you only impressed at what he has assembled here. The place has an unmistakably youthful vibe that permeates all staff and there's an energy and enthusiasm that is only found in a deep seated belief of a common purpose and vision, a belief that this is the future. But with all that said, I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.
Ahead of our 10 course tasting menu, there's five snack items that arrive in such rapid succession that the description of the first dish is still rattling round your head when the last arrives resulting in you forgetting all of them. These are hit and miss for me though each feels very of the (food) moment. With so many chefs using nasturtiums on their food, why not make nasturtium itself the food and here, a whole flower has a an oyster emulsion piped straight in to it. An eel mousse Oreo cookie is excellent as is the rabbit sandwich, but the dehydrated cod skins, described by other reviewers as wafer thin, were on our service too thick and also far too large giving such a volume of fish skin that the experience more closely resembled a reality TV challenge.
The menu starts off with the beef dripping candle which is certainly an eye opener and in execution, we've seen nothing like it before on this blog. Then we move to the plated courses starting off with burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme which we're told is inspired by fairground hot dog onions and Tom's love of gin. And I really, really wanted not to write a sentence like this but I simply can't avoid it: at Noma it was onion, grape juice and thyme. I'll say no more.
Lots of clever stuff continues to go on over the coming courses. When I see heritage potatoes, asparagus and barley grass on the menu I admit that I'm thinking L'enclume but it's a very different take and the potatoes arrive super soft and buttery (though I read somewhere that there's no butter used so maybe it's yet more clever). I enjoyed this dish a lot, but at its heart is it more than simply great pommes puree? Beetroot, raspberry and horseradish is as described, while personally, I think beetroot on menus seems exhausted now and if the surprise here is simply to pair it with raspberry (as an earlier surprise was to pair mackerel with strawberry), it's deflating.
Desserts were among the favourites of the day with the 'lemon' in all its various textures cold and cleansing immediately following our main while the 'prune tea, lovage and milk' complete with a sugared edible twig (that alone takes seven days to prepare) could easily be on the table of any of the progressive two star restaurants in the country today. We are left baffled though by the porridge in three servings: one too salty, one too sweet, one 'just right'. Aside of a spoon that was hardly fit for purpose and a complaint by my friend at being served breakfast oats for dessert, we can't understand why a pudding is presented where two of the three bowls served are purposefully designed not to be to your taste. A too salty porridge served at dessert is a nasty thing to put in your mouth at the very final moments of the meal and highlights in our view where a clever idea has trumped the simple idea that food served should taste good. Fortunately, there was a final chocolate teacake allowing us to put the porridge tastes behind us.
A post dessert cup of coffee appropriately symbolised in a house of stories the risk they run: the cup was more interesting than the coffee itself, while the cup and saucer had been meticulously chosen to nail the style brief but was at times largely impracticable as the handle is for show only, not use. Everything and everyone it seems has to have a story these days, it makes for good copy and even diners are invited to leave a book at their table complete with inside cover inscription of your own story. Blah.
There's a lot of skill, energy and thought that has gone in to this restaurant and you have to be in awe of what Tom Sellers has achieved here, don't get me wrong. I simply don't want the story to get in the way of the food and eating smarts should rank above IQ smarts or media smarts to create a meal you want to eat again and again. The beef dripping candle is without doubt memorable, but elsewhere, will I be craving the food here in a month from now? Honestly no, but as the restaurant matures, it certainly has the potential to be very interesting indeed.
bread and dripping
burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme
scallops, cucumber and dill ash
mackerel, salad root and strawberry
heritage potato, asparagus and barley grass
beetroot, raspberry and horseradish
Pigeon, summer truffle, pine
Prune tea, lovage and milk
Three Bears' porridge
chocolate sugar and teacake
I was hoping that I might have found a hidden gem in The Windmill, a pub located between Conduit Street (home to Alyn Williams) and Maddox Street (Goodman of course) because someone told me (not verified) that The Windmill is run by the same folk who run The Guinea Grill. Now, the Guinea Grill is one of the few pubs in this country that can genuinely claim to serve famous pies and I always look forward to eating at The Guinea Grill, considering it something of a treat. It's also somewhat busy and you have to book ahead. The Windmill however is more 'under the radar' in this respect but they clearly major on Pies and the pub even boasts a 'Pie Club' according to the website. Having sunk a few pints there many times in the past, it was now with some excitement that I decided to eat there also.
Monday to Friday over the lunch time period, The Windmill has a restaurant that closes at 2:30 while food is served in the bar until 4pm. Seeking a late lunch with a friend, we chose the bar option where the full selection of pies is readily available so no problems in that respect. We both opted for a pie: one steak and mushroom, one chicken bacon and leek. Both come with mash though I requested they swap my mash for chips which they were happy to do but that incurred a £1 surcharge which I think is a first in our experience. Indeed, chips as a side are on the menu at 90p more than mash. We guessed that both the mash and chips are bought in in bulk and the bought in chips cost more while the menu prices at cost plus; only a guess however. Neither was particularly special with the chips appropriately better than the mash but only just falling on the right side of acceptable. For me, the mash was on the wrong side.
The pies were okay. There's a decent enough crusty pastry top but overall the pastry is too thick and often felt stodgy in the mouth. My beef and mushroom filling was quite nice however with at least the beef satisfying which is by no means a given in many a pub pie but these were still not pies to shout about, simply good enough not to moan about at the price. Both were very heavily seasoned to the point of being overseasoned.
We sat, we ate, we chatted; we finished our food and the empty plates now sat with us also. Time flies when you are enjoying a good chat and we weren't looking at our watches. The barman/waiter then comes to our table to collect not our empty plates but the menu. "Can we not order desserts?" I ask as I watch the menu go.
"No, the kitchen's closed," he replies.
We look at our watch, it's 4:05pm. The waiter leaves with the menu, our dirty plates remain on the table while I remain speechless. The pub is essentially empty at 4pm, there's ample staff to do the chores, so why at 3:50 or 3:55 (a time when we had already finished our mains) could he have not come to our table and said "the kitchen closes in 5 minutes, if you'd like desserts, can you order now". We would have bought desserts, probably another drink (or two) and there would have been another £20+ in the till. Instead, we put our coats on and left.
Perhaps it's different in the restaurant area but this was a typical pub service fail downstairs in the bar. We always think on such occasions, if they're not interested in serving food in the bar, simply don't do it, we certainly wouldn't criticise a pub for not serving lunch in the bar between 3-4pm, but if you do offer it, do it right, including service. In an age when pubs constantly complain how difficult it is for them to make ends meet, The Windmill willingly saw money walk out the door that I wanted to spend there and that's just crazy. The Guinea Grill it is not.
chicken, bacon and leek pie with mash
steak and mushroom pie with chips (£1 supplement). gravy provided, not pictured
The Dorchester is one of the very best hotels in London. Despite being owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, there's still a sense of Britishness to the place and while I've never set foot inside The Grill restaurant before, I am hoping and thinking that it will carry the same standards as the rest of the hotel and that for London residents and foreign visitors alike, it will showcase just how good a British Grill can be. Given my recent struggle to find a really good Sunday lunch served up in a London restaurant, this seems the ideal challenge and a very nice idea: Sunday lunch at the Dorchester Grill.
The room itself is decorated in tartan (like err, Boisdale) which I can only assume is to connect you in to the same idea of Angus beef etc. Your big, padded tartan chair is comfortable, tables with table cloths are immaculately laid and staff provide a warm welcome. The Sunday menu gives you a choice of 5/5/5 on starters, mains and desserts with essentially classics on the main course options which is precisely why you are here and what you expect. But aside of smoked salmon on the starters, your opening dish has several interesting and even surprising options including cuttle fish, heritage tomato and squid ink dressing, and my choice, glazed calves sweetbread, white asparagus, crispy chicken wings and black trompettes.
Before the starter arrived however, the bread basket. Despite dining by myself, a basket containing five varieties of bread (all made in-house) was brought to the table together with three butters. I actually tried each of the breads and they were all fantastic. I knew I had much food on the way and while we are never normally big on munching through bread pre-lunch, for once I had to hold myself back for I could have quite easily grazed through everything provided. When my sweatbreads and crispy chicken wings arrived, appropriately tender sweeetbreads contrasted nicely with chicken wings that had been taken to as far as crispy can be before it's overdone.
But on a Sunday roast, it is always the main course that should be the star and here, the beef as you would expect in a traditional Grill is wheeled round on a silver trolley and carved and plated in front of you. The trolley contained several joints cooked to varying degrees so however you like your beef cooked, it's available. This seems a preferable approach to merely providing the end cuts of the joint for those who want it more cooked and the middle if you want it less cooked, an approach which favours customers at the start of service before customers can only have whatever is left.
The beef today was a rib joint, carved beautifully and thin, but with a good few slices so you end up with a satisfyingly large pile of medium rare beef on your plate. You're asked if you want the red wine gravy spooned over (yes) and a good amount is provided (so many places provide too little gravy!). Also on your plate, there are two large roast potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding and plenty of veg. Varieties of mustard and horseradish are left on the table and the overall result is an enormous plate of food with everything you could want. But the best bit is that the quality is there too, the beef is first class, the red wine gravy rich, and the bit that so many places struggle with, ie, everything else, that's done pretty good too. The roast potatoes and Yorkshire pud are essentially how they should be and the plate is cleared with pleasure.This is pretty much the best Sunday lunch I've had in a London restaurant and apart from nitpicks, I struggle to find fault.
Dessert, I choose a Hazelnut chocolate moelleux, provided a further surprise and was utterly fantastic, being a sphere of chocolate with a totally liquid centre that breaks like an Easter egg and sees some of the chocolate run everywhere and some sitting in a puddle in the larger parts of the now broken sphere, all of which came with a contrasting freshness from a frozen blackberry crumble. For chocolate lovers, it was a beautiful thing and I loved this original take on a moelleux.
Service was also excellent throughout, the staff at The Grill really understanding that highly professional service can still be friendly service and I thought that every member of staff I interacted with undertook their task so very well; I have only praise for them. I had hoped my Sunday lunch at The Grill would be good, but instead I found it to be exceptional. I was also pleasantly surprised that the price for the three course Sunday lunch was £38 which prices it in line with many other Sunday menus around the capital, but given the quality here, that elevates it substantially above the competition on value. As far as I am concerned then, on my Sunday outings thus far, The Grill at The Dorchester has set the benchmark for what Sunday lunch should be and how it should be delivered. I left my lunch table full up and delighted, a very good Sunday indeed.
bread for one, superb
glazed calves sweetbread, white asparagus, crispy chicken wings and black trompettes
the beef trolley
a proper Sunday lunch
Hazelnut chocolate moelleux, blackberry and mascarpone ice cream
The thing that I can't get over about my lunch at The Ivy today (Saturday) was that I booked it yesterday, about seven o'clock in the evening. I'm still recovering from the shock. Fans of the Ricky Gervais show Extras might remember from the final episode how Gervais's character, Andy, measures his success by his ability to procure a table at The Ivy. As his fame falters, his ultimate humiliation is to be denied entry to The Ivy altogether, and here I am, having a lunch there that I booked only yesterday.
I'm not sure what even made me think to try and get a table at The Ivy, perhaps I wanted a laugh and wondered how many months I'd have to wait. In the old days, it was between three and six. To rub salt in The Ivy wounds, it wasn't even my first choice, I thought I might try Ramsay's Petrus but they were fully booked with TopTable showing Wednesday as the earliest available table. What in the world is going on I wonder?
On my first visit to The Ivy, ooh, about 15 years ago, Eric Clapton was on the next table to me, and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics was across the way. It was the kind of place to go simply because it was THE place to go. For mortals, it could be the dining highlight of the year without anyone remembering or caring what food they had eaten. I don't remember what food I had on those very early visits but I doubt it has changed much from its current offering of classic British comfort dishes. People might find it strange that celebrities flocked to a restaurant that offered shepherds pie or sausage and mash, but they did (do?).
It did feel special walking through the door of The Ivy once again but as the meal progressed, I grew a little weary of it. The food was fine enough, griddled sea prawns with chilli pepper and wild garlic provided fresh prawns cooked well with just the right amount of chilli to provide a tingle. For my main, I thought I might try their shepherd's pie to sample this most famous of ordinary dishes, it was big, rich and leaves you fit only for an afternoon nap. For dessert, Scandinavian iced berries with hot white chocolate sauce is a lovely combination of hot cold, acidity and freshness, crunch and goo. I delighted in it once again.
But the service, which had started impressively with a smile and a warm welcome, proved ultimately poor despite their smart attire and endless kinetic energy. The silly errors you could dismiss, knives and forks laid the wrong way round for example, but no water was offered (and when I asked for a glass, the wait still left me wondering if I needed to ask a second time); my waiter never once asked if the food was okay on any of the courses even when clearing away the plates; not asking if I wanted tea, coffee or something stronger after I finished my dessert; left sitting at the table waiting, my scrunched napkin on top making it clear I was now finished but generally ignored as I sought the bill. The waiter muttered something when I finally paid the bill, it could have been thank you, it could easily have been something ruder. With the bill paid, I left my seat, walked across the restaurant, passed the front desk and stepped out the door without anybody saying thank you or goodbye. The cumulative impact is simply to believe they didn't really care whether I was there or not, despite hitting £80 a head, despite the service charge and despite a £2 cover charge for chewy bread. I guess they joined The Ivy to serve Eric Clapton, and here they are having to serve me; I can understand the crushing disappointment they must be feeling.
It's hard to know exactly how to categorise The Ivy. It was busy, and it is a restaurant where small tables are mercilessly packed in, so maybe they've added capacity and now believe profit is more important than scarcity. The Ivy crowd however was a mixed bunch, a handful of well to do's but otherwise it could have been a snapshot of Jamie's audience from over the road, for there were a sufficient number of T-shirts, jeans and trainers. The celebs have probably decamped upstairs to the private members club (membership by invitation only) to avoid the tourists who are now widely evident in the restaurant. Only viewing The Ivy through the lens of Hard Rock Cafe or Madame Tussauds does it seem to make sense given the quality and value of the food elsewhere, outclassed in every way, even this year, by places like Social Eating House or The Clove Club. The Ivy has always been a step back in time, it just now feels like a bigger step back than ever before.
The Ivy in the past has not been a camera friendly place so the pictures below were rushed off with a little point and shoot affair rather than the usual. With the influx of tourists however, there were plenty of cameras on tables and even the odd flash going off to capture the moment of 'we were here, where Ricky Gervais was on that program, whatsitsname'. I still don't think management approve, but it is not the same old customer base and they're fighting a losing battle.
griddled sea prawns
frozen berries and hot chocolate sauce
Another steak restaurant looking to be the best in London, JW Steakhouse has set itself a challenge that few would relish. The competition challenging for that top table place is fierce and only last week, my STK London
waiter promised me 'the best steak of my life', but he needs to get out more. I have further reservations here however as JWS is in, and part of, Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, a JW Marriott hotel, hence JW Steakhouse: this is rarely good news. The hotel-steakhouse arrangement is not one we have liked for either CUT at 45 Park Lane
or STK London.
Restaurant menus have been rotated from portrait to landscape while the online menu I'm looking at right now starts with dessert, then has wines by the glass, and then moves to starters, steaks, market potatoes before finishing with soups & salads, mains and sides. Are they trying just a little too hard to be different I wonder?
On the starters, there's Kansas City Steak Soup which sounds kind of fun, so tempted, but with a steak coming for the main, even for me that's too much red. Jumbo Prawns sound appealing but priced at £25, they must continue to only sound appealing. I opt for the JW Iceberg Wedge with blue cheese and crispy bacon (£8 on my bill, shown as £9 on online menu). When it comes, it is, I must admit, the best Iceberg Wedge I've had put in front of me. From the moment it is set down, you can see it's the business, everything in great proportions, plenty of crispy bacon, big lumps of blue cheese, a smother of blue cheese sauce, and it tastes as good as it looks: the flavours of everything come through. How many such wedges appear in other restaurants all wedge, the blue cheese and bacon seeming an afterthought. This was served by a kitchen that cares, and a kitchen with pride.
For my main, I ordered the 14oz Ribeye which I was pleased to see came under the banner of 'Butcher's British Cuts' rather than USDA beef which is also a prominent feature of the menu. When my waitress delivers the plate, she insisted I cut through it before she left the table to ensure it was cooked how I wanted it (medium rare; I did, it was). Slightly caught off guard by this, on reflection, I think I like this approach, it's certainly a confident approach and displays a keenness for the food to please.
The steak was very good and you could feel the quality of the meat, but somehow, it just missed out on being for me a truly memorable steak. Maybe it was a small seasoning issue falling it short on delivering the biggest flavours, or maybe it's a personal thing, for our preferred breed is without doubt Belted Galloway which we think has the best taste of all beef, here they serve Aberdeen Angus; if I had to guess, it would be that. I feel however I'm nitpicking, but if you're reading this post, I'm guessing you want to know.
Finally for dessert, it had to be cheesecake. I'm initially shocked by its £12 price tag, they claim it to be the best outside of America(!), but when it arrives, it did actually stun me in to silence. It's not a slice of cheesecake, it is a whole cheesecake. This could actually serve four people. They suggest you share it, they weren't kidding but if like me you don't, and if like me you can't eat it all (I'm at least pleased to say that), they offer to box it up for you to take home. £12 is actually very good value indeed for this. But is it the best cheesecake in the UK? No, but it is pretty good and there's a lot of biscuit crumb here if you like that in a cheesecake (I do).
Two more things to mention. First, the service was excellent. Lots of staff, all working hard, working as a team and really seem interested in providing a strong customer experience with sincerity. Service was pretty much ideal. Second, JWS has understandably been accused of being expensive (which it is), but that needs context, for it is no more expensive than other prime steakhouses. My 14oz Ribeye was £29, my chips £4; at Goodman Canary Wharf, the menu listed 400g (14.1oz) USDA ribeye is £32 and chips are £5. I'm betting too that Park Lane rents are a lot more than Canary Wharf rents, highlighted by the fact that the 14oz Ribeye at CUT at 45 Park Lane is £46, chips a remarkable £7.
JW Steakhouse then is very good, and on Park Lane, it also represents value, really. The quality is there, the staff are good, the surround is comfortably and recognisably steakhouse. To be honest, we never return to a steakhouse as a rule because Goodman is our go to place if we want steak and we're not blogging. As for here, I still think Goodman is better, but I could imagine returning to JWS, and that's about as high a compliment as I can pay a steakhouse; sometimes, it's nice to be surprised (and if only for size alone, I will be thinking about that cheesecake for some time to come).
JW Iceberg Wedge with blue cheese and crispy bacon
lots of fries
that's one dessert, a whole cheesecake
Restaurant deals are always appearing in my Inbox but to date, we have never taken advantage of them assuming that you get what you pay for and accordingly, the food will be at best downsized and at worst, simply bad.
Of course, the other more commonplace 'deal' is the set lunch, which on the face of it represents extraordinary good value at some of the UK's leading restaurants. The Square for example, where you pay £105 per person for the tasting menu, and £80 for the alc, offers a set lunch at just £35. Even we go to places like The Square so seldom that when we do go, we want the 'full experience' and so have never to date opted for a set lunch menu, but are we missing out on a trick? Fab food at a fab price?
Accordingly, we decided to go bargain hunting to see what you could get by way of deals and value in London over a week of eating. These deals were available in the particular week I chose to do this and not all will be available forever.
When I first Googled 'London Restaurant Deals', the three sponsored links at the top of the page were Lastminute.com, TopTable.co.uk and LivingSocial.com, the first two at least 'obvious' choices but I decided to buy an offer from all three to see how the experience varied. I did find however that many of the offers overlapped; furthermore, what was shown as an offer or deal on a number of promotion sites was in fact the set menu available direct from the restaurant.
Also, with so many deals out there, I have not necessarily achieved the best deals or the cheapest deals, rather, I have chosen seven offers as a selection of what's available to see how the food is and how I am treated as a budget customer. And this post is about getting value, almost something for nothing, and not about the cheapest available eats. We have not for example included in the article places like Patty & Bun or Chicken Shop that have an everyday menu where you can always eat well for a tenner.
I generally allowed myself a glass of house wine to go with the meal but otherwise opted for tap water and no frills. My chosen deals were as follows:
- Social Eating House: set lunch, £21, booked direct
- The Square: set lunch, £35, booked direct
- Marco Pierre White Steak House (Kings Road): half price main, booked through TopTable
- New Street Grill: 3 course Sunday lunch with all you can drink champagne £30, booked with lastminute.com
- STK London: 3 course 'steak flight' menu, £49, booked with livingsocial.com
- L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon: set lunch, £35, booked direct
- Wheeler's of St James: set lunch £22.50, walk in
Individual posts are done on each of these and can be read by clicking through the highlighted name in the paragraphs below.
I probably should have done a Groupon deal but couldn't bring myself to do so. An advertised offer at Reform Social & Grill for lobster, chips, wine at £14, booked through SquareMeal was due to be a part of this series but after visiting there, I felt I had been mis-sold, and it became a stand alone blog post in which I could more fully discuss the issue (read that post here
Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised about how good these deals were. The deals largely offered savings of 30-50% while on the set lunch deals, the standard of cooking generally remained consistent with significantly more expensive options. If you can resist the extras (no G&T to start, only tap water, no coffee), you can eat some amazing food without busting the bank.Top marks:
we awarded a full 10/10 to The Square
and Social Eating House
for their set lunch menus. The question for The Square was always, would we get a two star experience for £35, and the answer is yes. Just brilliant. At Social Eating House, £21 for their three course set lunch is one of the best value meals I've ever eaten. For the quality of the meal they offered, I would have happily paid twice the price.Great marks:
not quite a perfect 10 but great marks to New Street Grill
, Marco Pierre White's Kings Road Steakhouse & Grill
and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
. As much as you can drink champagne was an amazing offer over Sunday lunch for New Street Grill. 50% off mains at Marco's steakhouse was an out and out £14 saving per person with the top end main ordered and the set lunch at L'Atlier was another budget two star experience with some special moments.Not so good: Reform Social & Grill
missed the point in our opinion with their offer. At STK London
, this was never going to be a big saving deal (was hard to say how much, if any, I did save), and overall, the place just didn't do it for me. Wheeler's of St James's
scored less well in this comparison because it didn't seem much of a deal, simply a cheaper menu option, in other words, I felt I got what I paid for; elsewhere, I felt I had got more.Bottom line
- there are some great value meals to be had out there and you really can enjoy some of London's best food for much less than you might expect. On the set lunches I tried, the food was almost entirely in keeping with the restaurant's more expensive offerings, and nowhere on service was I made to feel a second class citizen. On deals, such as New Street Grill and Marco's Steakhouse, I got exactly what I thought and hoped I was getting resulting in a meaningful monetary saving.
We visited Wheeler's of St James's as part of our restaurant deal series: 7 days, 7 restaurants, 7 deals. 7 bargains?
where we seek out value deals on the London restaurant scene. The offer
Set lunch menu: £22.50 for three courses. Also available pre theatre. Booked with
Walk in. Why I chose it
Set in the stylish St James's area, carrying two big names in food, I've been intrigued to try Wheelers for some time. Downsides or drawbacks
None apparent. What I ate
- Potted duck & sourdough
- Sea bream with samphire & roasted tomato
- sticky toffee pudding (though not strictly on the set menu - see below) Food quality
The food quality was adequate but this felt most like a set lunch of the meals I tried in this series. Probably not attributable to the set lunch format however, bread was particularly poor being two slices of a baguette (from local supermarket?), strangely placed in the middle of my place setting like it was an amuse bouche. The potted duck for my starter was the star today and I really enjoyed this. The sea bream however was nothing special, served in a smallish quantity bulked out by more samphire than I can ever remember seeing on a plate. It felt like they were using up sea bream that didn't make the cut for the alc and which otherwise had no future. After, they gave me the pudding list, but the full alc version; when I pointed out that I was on the set lunch, they said I had the menu now and was free to choose any dessert which was nice of them. Disappointed with my main, I had a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream (not available on the set lunch) which was a nice, if run of the mill, dessert.
Interestingly, the table next to me were also having the set lunch menu and ordered the fish and chips, which actually looked very good and made me a little jealous. The fish and the chips were in good quantity also. Food quantity
As above, I felt the main course was bulked out by samphire. Service
Service was professional and attentive regardless of me being a set lunch diner. There were lots of staff buzzing around, I never had to wait for anything, though smiles and an affable attitude were concentrated very much in the younger members. Meal deal verdict
With three courses here £22.50, I felt the set lunch provided what you paid for, with nothing really extra on offer. At Social Eating House (set lunch £21.50), I felt I had received a better quality meal than I had paid for and therefore had achieved exceptional value. In that sense, at Wheeler's seems to me not so much a deal, simply a cheaper menu option.
With one glass of house white plus service, the bill came to £31.50, near identical to New Street Grill where I drank a bottle of champagne for that same money. Accordingly... Score
4/10 Additional note on Wheeler's.
There are two dining rooms in Wheeler's, a respectable front room, and a back room that is lined with largely fetish artwork. Possibly best avoided if you are taking your parents (unless you deliberately want to start a conversation about something very personal).
I am unclear whether Marco Pierre White is an owner or consultant here, my waiter didn't know, and conceded that the only time he had ever seen Marco was on TV.
While Wheeler's of St James's and Wheelers of Whitstable were for some time run by the same owners, the restaurants are now only connected by name.
front dining room
back dining room
potted duck and sourdough
sea bream with samphire and roasted tomato
sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream