Maybe it’s my age, but the first thing that popped into my swede when considering examples of the phrase ‘style over substance’ was German pop Gods Milli Vanilli.
Now for those of you who haven’t the foggiest, they were a toned, stereotypically handsome, male duo in the late 80s/early 90s who had a couple of big hits including “Girl You Know it’s True”.
Anyway, they were becoming a big deal, but they forgot to tell everyone that they didn’t actually sing the songs they were releasing.
In fact the record company was allegedly paying two tuneful hobbits to sit in a darkened room voicing hits in return for bowls of gruel.
Meanwhile Milli & Vanilli (not their real names) had the hair, the clothes and the ‘style’ to be the faces on the front of their records and in the pop videos. Bear with me.
So when I say I had a very 'Milli Vanilli meal' at The Refinery in Southwark, London, last month, you know what I am referring to.
Plenty of style, not much substance, possible hidden hobbits.
In neo-trendy Southwark, a stone’s throw from even trendier Borough Market, The Refinery has garnered a lot of good reports as part of the Drake and Morgan bar chain.
And it’s easy to see why. It has a big open space with large tables for social chatter, and dark corners for the more intimate evening. There is exposed metal fittings – a modern classic – and an open theatre kitchen. It ticks all the boxes of hipness.
The menu has plenty of dishes of meat and fish, and if pigeon-holed, would perhaps be of a British brasserie style. And style is clearly important to these guys. The cocktails are served in quirky jars to knitted-jumper wearing hipsters reclining in worn Chesterfields.photo
Then the Milli Vanilli factor starts to bite.
No bread on the table. A pet hate of mine. It doesn’t cost a lot does it guys… oh actually it does…£5.95 in fact. Something that looks like its ‘free’ to the customer, and all the restaurant need do is build it into the meal price. Sorted, everybody is happy.
My first course was the enticingly-named Great British Bloody Mary Mussels – part of the small plate options, £5.95 – The same price as the bread!
The mussels themselves were perfectly cooked, open, steaming and not chewy. There was a small bread accompaniment with the dish, which arrived in a trendy steel pot on a wooden board - running theme here.
Unfortunately no spoon came with it, so the Bloody Mary sauce went to waste as a number of attempts to garner the eating utensil went awry as the busy service staff raced around.
My friend ordered the Autumn Fall Flatbread (goat’s cheese, London honey, rocket, figs) to start, and due to his current fitness regime he asked for no goat’s cheese….unfortunately he still received the renounced cheese but was deprived of the figs instead. A good try.
For the mains I went for the Reef & Beef – half lobster with 4oz steak and ‘chopped potatoes’ at a reasonable £17.95. Myself and another friend added peppercorn sauce for £2.95 each.
When it arrived, it looked divine. It wasn’t until the steak’s juices started running off its trendy wooden board and onto my trousers that I realised there was a problem.
Firstly it looked like I had p*ssed myself. And secondly I was losing my juices (not the same thing). On consulting my chum, he smiled and said he had to put a napkin on his knee because the same experience had befouled him also.
The steak was meant to be medium rare, it wasn’t.
But at least the ‘chopped potatoes’ (chips to us non-trendy folk), were not drenched in juice, because they were in a f-ing plant pot. The lobster was, however exceptionally cooked and sliced in half.
Unfortunately, again we were not provided with a lobster cracker or fork with which to extract the tender meat. I actually cut myself on the little git’s claw trying to get the flesh out. Touche' lobster, touché.
A couple of attempts to get seasoning and other condiments delivered to the table failed again. But still the toilets were beautifully decorated.
Another friend chose the Chicken in a Basket dish (£11.95), again it looked divine, but practically, it's just not easy to eat out of a wicker picnic box.
Even Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows (again showing age here) unpacked his meal before tucking in.
The final bill was the final insult.
They even charged my friend and I for the two peppercorn sauces that we had only just noticed, hadn’t ever arrived. Excellent work.
We didn’t stay for dessert. And they are lucky we didn’t send a dry cleaning bill.
It was a proper Milli Vanilli.