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|Address:||25 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JS|
|Tel:||020 7240 2078|
|Price: £36.00||Wine: £17.00||Champagne: £66.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 12N-11.30pm (Sun -10.30pm)|
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Russell Norman is opening restaurants at a rate that is thicker and faster than an Irish sprinter. The latest, the fifth in the last year and half or so, is in Covent Garden, next door to the terrific Opera Tavern and opposite Shrek. The musical, not Wayne Rooney.
So does the fact that he has opened up five restaurants make this a mini-chain? Well, four of the five do have a bit of a theme, with a bar as the central point. They all serve small tasting plates and cocktails and all employ more tattoos and lower riding jeans than is strictly necessary. The music is rock/blue grass/country, and noisy, but only two could be said to be sisters. The others are all very different: the sisters (the original, Polpo, and the penultimate, Da Polpo) share an almost identical menu and look interchangeable. Polpetto is similar in menu, but very different in restaurant layout; crammed into the first floor of a pub, with no bar in sight, other than the one downstairs in the (separately owned) pub. Spuntino is American influenced and Mishkin’s, the latest of the quintet, is Jewish deli inspired.
In fact, it is very different in feel and style from any of the others. It has that US diner feel, with booths on one side of the room and a counter as you walk in. This is where the action is, so we forewent our reserved seating and sat at the counter/bar.
The menu is, if I am honest; odd. It starts with a series of sandwiches. These are big, and are heavy on the salt beef, but there are plenty of sandwich bars around here where you can get a salt beef on rye that doesn’t cost this much. So we passed on these, and instead settled for a nice bowl of duck scratchings whilst we sank our cocktail and spent time studying the menu.
The cocktail was lovely: gin based (as all are – there being a full bar of lovely gins, from Hendricks, through Sipsmith and Juniper, to Tesco’s Value), which came in a jug sprouting a crop of mint that would keep a mojito maker happy for a month, and with a couple of jam jars. We assumed that these were to drink from, as no glasses were proffered, so did. I cannot comment on the duck scratchings, as they never arrived. This is a theme of RN restaurants: the service isn’t as bad as at that homage to him that is Duck Soup, but it can sometimes border on the wrong side of casual.
Having decided against sarnies, and thinking that we would start with just a couple of dishes and see how we went (which is the joy of RN’s places) we ordered, and received, a very fine couple of dishes in the shape of a duck hash and fried egg, which came with a side of liquor (a sort of super-strength jus) and an oxtail and bean concoction, both being main course sized, so enough, with a mixed plate of chips and onion rings, for a whole meal. Although that didn’t stop us having an equally terrific lemon drizzle cake for afters.
The crowd is an odd mix; some look as though they are extras from Shrek over the road, whilst some are drop in tourists and others, like us, just locals looking for a good nibble at lunchtime. The booking policy is a good idea, especially for groups of more than two, which are always difficult to seat at places without one, yet this is also certain to get a high level of passing trade, given its location.
Overall a confusing place: is it an expensive sandwich bar, a starter followed by main course followed by desert restaurant or a small, sharing plate place? Or is it all three? Whatever it is, the food is very good and, overall, I liked it, but it would probably the least amongst the group that I do.
And no, it is most assuredly not a chain, which implies identikit food, atmosphere and dress. RN is clever enough to realise that you can have a simple theme that unites different restaurants, but let each develop its own character. I can’t wait for the next one.