Dinner à deux: smart steaks and old-school service
Imagine a land untouched by small plates, sliders and kimchee cocktails. In this land, you will find Joanna’s. It’s an old-fashioned Crystal Palace institution, keeping the neighbourhood in steaks, burgers and chargrilled Americana for the last 35 years. Don’t expect a diner - it’s a quietly classy environment that’s smart but not fusty. Having enjoyed a couple of decent dinners here in the past, I booked lunch after a three-year hiatus.
Staff are still decked out in brasserie chic (starched aprons, natty waistcoats) and we experienced the same old-school, courteous service as before. The interior continues to uphold the retro aesthetic with clubby wood panelling and a shiny, bistro bar. The new-fangled soundtrack is a bit of a clanger; ‘80s Madge and Eurythmics seem incongruous and certainly jarred at 2pm on a Saturday, leaving us longing for the days when the founder tinkled the ivories. The crowd was almost exclusively women in twos or threes, usually with a lovely Mum in tow. It made for a low-key, relaxed scene that was far less screechy than a hardcore brunch-and-bubbles destination, with considerably less booze being knocked back. Tea and cake proved as popular as a full English - the brunch menu runs from noon 'til 3pm.
There was nowt wrong with my no-frills Eggs Benedict; all runny yolks streaming from plump white orbs, smooth hollandaise and proper, hearty bacon. A side of peas and chervil was a little past its freshest, with the odd roguish woolly pellet robbing the dish of sweetness. Squid and chorizo on mixed leaves was better, but edged towards the filthier end of the salad spectrum due to an inescapable sea of aioli. (It’s worth asking for dressing on the side).
Pud was a chocolate sundae; a towering portion that was more than enough for two. Brownie chunks delivered the dense, truffle-like goo we were hoping for. The sticky sauce lacked the lip-smacking umami of a ballsy salted caramel, but nuggets of peanut crunch offered the right balance between savoury and sweet. The whole haul came to 35 quid in total, including service.
All in all, I really like Joanna’s and would heartily recommend it for dinner. It’s an unpretentious spot that would coax you as smoothly through a first date as it would supper with the folks, preferably well-oiled with some classic cocktails. The evening set up’s more polished, and the room looks at its best when aglow; lunch can seem underwhelming in comparison, so make a beeline after dark.