01 December 2013
Wading through a lively crowd inside the front door, where the bar is, for our early Friday evening reservation led us into an eerily silent, roomy, dining area, at the rear of the venue. Resisting our Instincts to return to the bar and join the noisy fun, we were the 2nd table to be seated, by the window with a view of the square with pretty lit trees, albeit surrounded by office/apartment type buildings. I’m not sure it’s a view that would be warming or welcoming on a Summer evening, but in now Winter, it is dark. Why don't you speak up more, my silent, reserved English internal voice called as I slightly enviously eyed a couple (table #3 of the evening) being shown to a large banquette, I had assumed was for 4 or more – we later spotted 7 people cosily huddled at another. ‘Maybe they are regulars, or known in Canary Wharf as the big tippers’ I sighed under my breath as the waiter lightened my mood by offering an impromptu tasting session of the 2 reds I was torn between.
The initial service up to taking our food order was friendly and attentive but then, yes you guessed it, in walk the ‘lively crowd’ from the bar – its late November, office party season; about the only thing I miss about being employed (I'm now a freelancer). The butcher shop white tiled and glass walls weren’t doing much to absorb the frivolity, but then the room is large enough for it to have been fairly unobtrusive. The problem was that the attentive service then went a bit AWOL. As tables filled and the large group took their turn, the starters (pan fried foie gras with duck egg) appeared it was a little cool and slightly greasy in texture. Not wishing to spread the delightful looking, yellow bulbous yolk on my plate: it seemed a bit lost without some brioche or the like to soak up the juicy goo and to spread the delightfully rich foie gras upon. The rather large bowl of mixed bread that, after 3 to 4 minutes, arrived served to fill the hungry diner rather than add to the quality of an otherwise fair starter. Neither of us felt that all of the egg, bacon, onion relish and foie gras combo belonged in the same dish, and for sure the bread didn't enhance the flavour, although it was great for ensuring the plate was returned to the kitchen spotlessly clean.
The Peach Bellini, for she, and Rioja by the glass, for me, worked their magic and soon we were looking forward, expecting some delay, to our 7-hour cooked lamb sharing dish. So yes it was ‘7-hour cooked’ lamb, and the menu’s little clock icon did indicate that it might take a little longer to prepare than other dishes, although even though my mathematics skills aren’t what they once were, the must have to pre-prepare the dish before service begins – service did slow down somewhat. The Bellini drinker’s request for a glass of, fresh and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, took several ‘half waves turned into head scratches’ and eventual swivelling of body and brandishing of wine carte to distract the waiter from the happy crowd, and the nearby delectable blonde – whose table was, I noted somewhat jealously (of the waiter not the table) receiving rather a lot of attention.
We swapped the offered mashed potatoes for triple cooked chips with a side of root vegetable mash – thinking the chef must have had a (juicy) reason for offering mash in the first place. We were right. A large shoulder of lamb, on the bone appeared, in a cast iron baking dish with oodles of ruby red, sweet and rich jus. Goodness it looked at tasted fantastic. The meat fell off the bone and we devoured the succulent, soft and beautifully seasoned meat casting aside all notions of why it is that Spring lamb, Beaujolais Nouveau for that matter, never quite lives up to it the hype of being as good as it can be – I suppose it’s because good produce takes time to mature, and in this case, to cook. The chips were great, but the chef knows his mash and the spuds would probably have served better for the purposes of soaking up every last dribble of the ‘not to be wasted’ jus, which instead took a lot of chip dipping: Whilst less effective than the mash perhaps this was still an enjoyable and extremely tasty way to spend 20 minutes or so by which time all that remained in the pan was a dinosaur proportioned bone.
Replete, we couldn’t even lift our heads to eye the dessert menu, which was a shame because the selection looked pretty special. So we ordered the bill, and a single espresso to try and melt some of the food down before the giddying prospect of rising and waddling out of the restaurant. We’d go back and whilst we’d probably trade a starter for dessert I just hope the 7-hour lamb remains, did I say how delicious it was?
The 10% service charge included was probably fair, but about the top for what we experienced. It‘s Christmas what can you expect? The place was busy, and that was fine, but it seems to me that despite all of the clever goings on in the kitchens and focus on the customer experience, restaurants of this quality need to figure out how to maintain the expected service standards when inundated by large groups of diners. Either that or its takeaways for my office party and the rest of December before returning to the dining scene when no doubt the office crowds will be drying out, bemoaning bonuses of old and looking forward to the next time the company credit card gets aired to pay for the team’s meal.