I was bigging it up for C, as you do. It’s good, I said, gutsy Brasserie-style food. Smart, an elegant room, a bit hotel-y, but a restaurant for grown-ups. Highly competent, I said, you’ll like it. Great chef, you know, that Eric Chavot. He’s a star.
I should have known better. I’d given it the restaurant kiss of death.
My first visit was with clients. Serious chaps. Talking numbers and everything. I can’t really concentrate on the food when that’s going on; numbers are my enemy.
I’d found the room bright and buzzy, the décor pleasing (check out the floor), the service attentive and everything just working as I’d expected.
I’d ordered the Waldorf Salad, because I didn’t really have much of an appetite and I wanted a non-starter, you know, something vegetable-y and with little protein, so that I wasn’t staring at an empty plate whilst others were eating. Fortunately, they were not “out of Waldorfs” a là Fawlty Towers, but this wasn’t quite the classic recipe.
Created by a Mr Oscar Tschirsky, at the Waldorf Hotel in New York, in the mid- 1890s, the original contained apple and celery, dressed in mayonnaise. Walnuts came later.
This modern take on the classic had a creamy dressing, crisp apple, lettuce and caramelized spicy pecans – not strictly Waldorf, but it all worked and I loved it.
Then on to tiger prawns, with chickpeas and chorizo. Fresh grilled buttery prawns and chickpeas, in an intense stock, studded with red peppers and chorizo, this was full of punchy flavours.
A good time was had by all and I came back positively glowing, despite all the talk of numbers.
So when I returned, in real life, on a Sunday evening, I was full of hope and enthusiasm. The gloss was slightly tarnished when we were directed to the little table right at the back, next to the toilet, surrounded by dark wood and outside the main body of the restaurant. The spare table, for walk-ins. I didn’t bother to sit down because I wasn’t prepared to eat there.
I’m sorry but I don’t like the table, I said. Are there any others? I’ll see, she said. I could see at least six. After a few minutes of hanging around at the bar we were moved. None of those free tables were occupied for the duration of our fairly lengthy visit.
So we sat and waited. And waited. A lovely waitress took our drinks order, but unfortunately this was only after we had been sitting there for 10 minutes or so. The drinks took an age to arrive. Another 15 minutes later, the menus arrived. C was starting to get slightly irritated. It doesn’t take much, to be fair, but, for once, he did have a point. And the service was consistently slow or non-existent, throughout the meal. And I get so bored of waving like an idiot in a restarant.
So we had plenty of time to decide, which is a bad thing, because I will change my mind at least 6 times if you give me time. I finally decided on the chicken liver paté. And as the waitress was standing over table, taking the order, a large platter arrived, unbidden, laden with said chicken liver paté and fig jam, terrine of pork and chicken liver, endives with a dressing and paprika, steak tartare and cornichons. And what if you don’t eat meat?
Whilst I am all for free food and this was a very generous plate of it, enough to be a starter for the two of us, I found it slightly bizarre.
In terms of timing, had it come one minute later, I would have had to change my order , as it contained the very same dish that I had decided to order. As it was, seeing the size of it, we dropped the idea of starters altogether.
And I was glad that I hadn’t ordered the chicken liver, as it wasn’t the best thing on that platter. I loved the terrine - rough texture, pork chunks and chicken liver, it went well with the cornichons and the rustic bread. And the tartare was good as well, creamy and full of capers with a mustard dressing, there was enough sharpness to cut through the meat. This was really delicious. Topped with a perfectly cooked egg, I really liked this.
C ordered grilled poussin with lemon confit. When he later complained that it was a little uninteresting, I pointed out that he had left the lemon confit untouched and that it was grilled poussin. Only so much you can do with that. He nodded. But I’d lost him. He’d got annoyed with them and the goodwill had dissipated.
And it had, in truth, taken too long between courses; too long to bring the drinks and far too long to pour the wine, which they had inconveniently placed two tables away in a little bucket. I don’t want to keep asking for more, like I’ve got a drink problem.
Willing and wanting it to be lovely, I was a little more forgiving than C. My beef daube a là Provencale was excellent. A meltingly-tender piece of beef, but with a delicious chewy/crunchy crust, in a pot of richly-flavoured beef stock, with air-dried tomatoes, black olives and baby carrots. After I’d spooned massive dollops of buttery mashed potato in to the pot, this was a dish of pure comfort and joy.
And then a crème pot au chocolat. Too much of the crème, not enough of the chocolate, sadly.
So, somewhat disappointed by the lacklustre showing on the service front, we left, with C saying he wouldn’t come back. I hope it was just an off night, but what had been slick, intelligent service at my lunchtime sitting had turned into slack, uninterested service on a Sunday evening. And I know that Sunday night is the graveyard slot, but the great man was in the kitchen and this shouldn’t have felt like they were playing the “B” team. I was all for telling the world how wonderful this was, but on this showing, I’m a little more circumspect. It’s great, but it’s not perfect. Sort out the service and this would be a cracker.