What's more, I've been in the bar plenty of times, it's a very smart bar offering very smart drinks to a very smart crowd of after work drinkers. I don't know but if I had to guess, I would say that the best selling drinks here are Champagne, gin & tonic and a Martini, possibly in that order but like I said, I am only guessing. But despite having stepped through the front door on a number of occasions for a drink, it never really occurred to me to walk another 30 yards to the restaurant.
Maybe it's because the bar and restaurant are in fact part of a hotel (acceptable for a bar but often less so for a restaurant), maybe it seemed a little too serious for me to feel that I could relax there and enjoy a meal (for the space is an imposing one), or maybe I'm just a stick in the mud, but as part of our City Eating series, this was another venue that simply had to be on the list.
A little research before going there tells me that the Head Chef is Barry Tonks who has previously earned a Michelin star as Head Chef at McClements and so is a man who can clearly cook. What's more, Google suggests he's well regarded in the industry. A 2009 edition of Zagat scores the food at Bonds 22 points, where a score of 20-25 means 'very good to excellent' (30 = perfection). My spirits lift and I find myself excited at the prospect.
The building is impressive, not least an elaborate glass dome in the main hotel foyer, but the dining room too displays fine Corinthian columns testifying to a time gone by idea that the magnificence of a bank's building testifies to its financial soundness. Against that backdrop at least, some might smirk knowing that this was formerly a Midland Bank branch, aware that Midland suffered a liquidity crisis necessitating a Bank of England intervention and an eventual bailout by HSBC.
My starter was Hand made 'native blue' lobster ravioli with its own Armagnac bisque. Interestingly, an almost identically described dish was on the menu at City rival Coq d'Argent where we had eaten just one week earlier and I was interested to compare. With the dish set in front of me, my first thoughts were that this is a lot of food. When I realised how deep the bowl was, it was clear that this was even more food than I first expected. The ravioli was almost the size of a cricket ball and it was a touch intimidating as a starter. The pasta also was a little too thick and the lobster a touch chewy making it overall slightly hard work.
What the dish really seemed to lack was finesse. This was too much, too heavy, too early; a smaller, more perfectly done ravioli parcel would be much preferred. On this basis, the starter failed for me. Miss B's Seared 'Sashimi' yellow fin tuna pineapple, pickled mooli, coriander soy and lime dressing looked quite divine and while still a good size portion, demonstrated (visually at least, for I didn't try it) the lightness of touch I sought in my ravioli. Hers definitely seemed the better option.
On plating, the jus and the black pudding and apple puree run into each other but with the texture of the puree being more solidly viscous but almost identically coloured to the jus, it initially looked as if the jus was coagulating on the side of the plate (see the right hand side of the picture below). Some clearly separated puree 'dots' might have worked wonders for the presentation here. Again, Miss B's Poached cod, roasted chorizo, soft squid ink polenta, young vine tomatoes with its own beignet looked the more attractive and appealing dish.
I opted for the fondant in the end as I wanted to see if they could deliver a gooey chocolate centre. I was a little disappointed though to see that this was more of a chocolate tart than a fondant so rendering the question of a gooey centre irrelevant. The Floating Island next to me however looked good and in the traditional style.
Considering my food, it felt like there was a tension on the plate between comfort food and a reach to haute cuisine which inevitably led it to miss on both. Somewhere like Bistrot Bruno Loubet shows the brilliance of strong flavours in simple plates, but given the elegance of the surroundings at Bonds, bistro food is not where they're aiming for, but through every dish, that finesse of touch that can elevate food above the ingredients was somehow missing.
It was an enjoyable evening in good company with some lovely English wines picked for the table by the Assistant Manager, but sadly, with my choice of plates, the food fell short of expectations.
Bonds can be found at http://www.theetoncollection.co.uk/restaurants/bonds/
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