Our first visit here, with friends on a busy Friday lunchtime and all of us chose a set lunch menu that at under £20 for three courses, represents almost extraordinary value. The Vanilla Pod had been on our radar for a while and its taken us a while to get around to it. We'd had decent reports- more about the food than the restaurant itself admittedly- and so we arrived with expectations.
My button mushroom risotto, bavette of steak served in slices, and cheeseboard were all nicely cooked and presented, and all four of us left the restaurant feeling like we'd had a decent lunch and that we'd probably go back. Personally I felt that flavours overall were a little bit down on what I'd hoped for, and I found myself wondering whether I may have had a stronger positive view had we opted for the more ambitious a la carte meal (£45) rather than the set lunch. In short, between conversations I found myself wondering whether this set lunch was intended to provide an indication of what this kitchen is capable of, or whether it was designed down to a price with ingredients that may not have made it onto the main menu - in that form at least. I have to say that a day later the jury's still out on this one as far as I'm concerned. But what I would say is this:- for me, I'd prefer to pay another tenner for my three courses and get food which I'm convinced was equivalent quality to the a la carte, albeit (of course) with a reduced choice and maybe slightly smaller portions. Its a dilemma for the restaurant, sure, but its also capable of confusing the diner. What's the trade -off that I should expect when I choose a low-price set meal ? I can name a half dozen or so well-rated restaurants which offer a set lunch comparable in quality with their star rating, at a relatively low price. Equally I could name others where a low priced set lunch is a million miles away in quality and complexity terms, from the food you'll get on the "real" menus.
As I say I understand the dilemma , and the attractions of a full restaurant against an empty one even if you're not serving up what you're known for. But maybe I should make a point of view clear- I would much rather restaurants set out to serve the best they can do. Even if I have to pay a bit more, and if you want me to look forward to returning, give me food that I'll appreciate and remember.
Back to the Vanilla Pod, service was efficient and pleasant, we enjoyed our wines, -with decent mark-ups we thought- and good bread and coffee. It was pretty busy and so maybe a fraction slower than we'd usually expect for 3 courses and coffee, but hey it was a convivial lunch with friends and we had the time, so no issues there. We had a good time.