I came across The Garrison (as a lunch venue) via the internet, despite having walked past it a good number of times. From the outside after all, it looks like just another public house, but researching new places to eat on line (specifically pubs), The Garrison is recorded as one of London's top 10 gastro-pubs, and so immediately made our 'must visit' list.
Inside The Garrison it's quirky but endearing with a mix of old fashioned pub tables, high counters with stools and a further row of booths. There's a good view into the mostly open kitchen, a wall of wicker baskets filled with fruit and veg, plus signs, knick-knacks and curiosities that gives the place keen visual interest. On a Friday lunchtime, the place is also buzzing with diners giving atmosphere without being too loud. Perfect then.
What I hadn't realised (until 10 minutes ago) is that I had hit exactly their 10 year anniversary and to celebrate that, they are currently running the 2003 menu with 2003 prices - I thought it seemed ridiculously good value at the time. By the time you read this however, that promotion has probably ended. I don't know how different the current menu looks compared to their 2003 offering, so this blog post might be a poor representation of what The Garrison more ordinarily serves up in 2013.
But for what it is worth, lunch was this: to start, roasted quail, celeriac & apple remoulade, beans and walnut salad; main, pan fried cod, baby vegetables, crab sauce; for dessert, apple crumble, mascarpone ice cream. The quail was probably the best dish and the sum of the ingredients worked well with both flavours and textures. The only imbalance came from the substantial amount of remoulade compared to the half quail on top but it was a overall a nice dish. The cod, when it arrived, was an instant disappointment because the skin on the fish had failed to crisp up leaving me to wonder why they were happy to send it out this way. The crab sauce looked thin and watery and overall, the presentation really did let the dish down. It wasn't in fact a bad piece of cod in the end, but the carrots became monotonous early on and crab sauce never rose to the occasion. The dessert, fresh out the oven, was super hot, but the effect was to melt the ice cream mostly into the crumble layer which then lost some of its crunch. The apples too were really quite tarte.
On service, they were friendly, and visibly busy, but perhaps a little disorganised. When asked if I wanted a dessert menu (yes), despite them being just five feet away, the waitress instead attended another job, and five minutes later returned and asked if there was anything I wanted - a dessert menu perhaps? In the end, my regular three course lunch during an ordinary lunchtime took almost an hour and three quarters which is simply too long for pub food.
I really wanted to really like The Garrison because if, as a nation, we are to claim that British food has moved from up and coming to arrived, it is places like this, not just the fancy Michelin starred places, that must deliver compelling food. They've survived 10 years so far, so they are clearly doing something right, but for me, on the day, it fell short of carrying the banner.