THE AMBASSADOR: A FLOP ON EXMOUTH MARKET
Dos Hermanos like shopping malls. Let me rephrase that. We love, worship and adore shopping malls. Many of our US road trips have been punctuated with stops at sublime examples of these temples of consumerism. In fact, one or two trips have actually been predicated on visits to them.
Our favourites to date are the one you hit just as you enter Nevada which has an enormous casino by way of giving the finger to California and the one that surrounds the new Opryland in Nashville where we saw a shop called The Apple Shoppe which sold apple related goods ( the fruit not the computer ). In fact, it sold everythng but apples. I really, truly love America and Americans. They have no clue how lovingly insane they are.
So, when HP suggested that we do a little trip this morning to Bluewater, I did not need much persuading. A slightly more tortuous journey than I anticipated .Train/bus/bus/train/tube but well worth it to wander around this bright spacious mall with its 365 stores ( one for every day of the year you know )
We returned a few hours (much of which time had been spent noses pressed against the window of the Krispy Kreme store as we watched them making batches of glazed donuts) with our purchases. For HP a rather splendid DAB radio and, for me, the brand spanking new Apple laptop upon which I type this very homily.
A few hours later, we were rested from our travels and ready to head out for supper to The Ambassador, a new place on Exmouth market located in what I always consider a jinxed site. I have not changed my mind, but more of that later.
To begin, a couple of excellent pints of London Pride in The Artillery Arms while we watched the resident Arsenal fans enjoying Chelsea getting thrown out of the cup.
Then to the bar at Moro for 1/2 a bottle of La Goya Manzanilla, a plate of Iberico and some olives. The sherry was fantastic. I have not seen this maker before, but it had the slight saltiness that is the common trait of manzanilla and it was served at the perfect temperature. The portion of Iberico seemed to be smaller than I recall although that may just be memory. About 50gs for £12. Steep, but there is no other ham to compare. Olives were pretty good too. So so far, so good as we headed across the road to The Ambassador.
This new restaurant has been getting excellent reviews. How? I can only assume that we went when it was a very bad night. I cannot imagine any reason to go there again.
The decor could not be more different from when it was the Exmouth Grill. Where they had booths here there are simple green formica topped tables and a stunningly horrible grey linoleum floor. The seats were uncomfortable and the whole look just seemed terribly misjudged. None of that, of course, would matter a bean, if the food was good. The much missed Sutton Arms was hugely uncomfortable, but you soon forgot that as you were enveloped in the splendour of Rosie Sykes' cooking. Here there is no such luck
The service was very friendly and we were shown to a table for four at the window. At 8pm, the place was not that full and, although a few more tables were seated while we were there, not many. That does not augur well.
While we ordered the server brought some bread which HP liked. I did not. It had no taste and compared to that we had just tried at Moro, no comparison.
To begin, HP had a rabbit and foie terrine while I had bean, pork cheek and squid casserole. I said when I posted about Sam's that a terrine is a very good way of testing the intentions of a kitchen, particularly as they seem to be on every single menu at the moment. This was not a good example. Where the terrine at Sam's was dense and had different textures this was all one note. Too smooth and undistinguished. The foie had a good taste, but the rabbit had none. My starter was a little better. The squid was a mite tough, but the flavour of the dish was fine. But, what a tiny portion. For £6.50! I felt ripped off.
The main courses sounded very good. For HP a slow braised pork belly with pumpkin and sweetbreads. For me, onglet with swiss chard and a bone marrow gremolata. Unfortunately, neither was a success. The pork had not one trace of flavour and made us question the provenance particularly when compared to the similar dish at The Trading House nearby which is the current benchmark for this sort of cooking for me at the moment. We had forgotten what came with it and while we, of course recognised the two small blobs of sweetbread, we entirely forgot the pumpkin and played some embarassing game of "it's turnip, no it's polenta" before we remembered. Still, it is a testament to the cooking that whatever it was, it was entirely mushed enough to disguise its origin.
My first bite of the steak made me think it was off. HP declared it "actively rank" I did not think it was that bad, but there was an oddness about the combination of the lemon zest of the gremolata and the bone marrow and the meat which came rare as ordered. I am at the point in my marathon training where I am consuming vast amounts just to keep my calorific intake up, and I ate a lot of this, but it is one of the dishes I have had this year that should come with a hazzard triangle and flashing warning lights.
For a mere £3.50 we added some purple sprouting brocoli which was also mushy and wilted beyond any bite. Why bother?
With this we drank a bottle of Bierzo @ £23. Not badly priced and it had that initial nose which HP described as "essence of the farmyard" but I, rather too loudly announced "it smells like dung" It is much better than that suggests.
We could not face their attempts at pudding so just got the bill, a not inconsequential £77 including service. A lot to pay for what is, in effect, the sort of food you would expect in the worst sort of gastropub. I am all for having a limited menu if the preparation is exact. I am not so keen on having a limited chef.
So, we trudged the short walk down St John St to, er, St John and sat at the bar while HP had some rum & raisin Ice cream and a vielle prune, while I had a very thick lemon posset and a poire william. All of which was able to restore our mood a tad.
Someone once said that I prefer the bad places more than I do the good places and, while it certainly gives you more to write about, there is no way I want to spend the best part of £40 on a crappy meal just to post it on a blog.
Make no mistake, The meal at The Ambassador was a crappy meal. As HP came back from pointing Percy at the porcelain, he wandered past the bar with its artfully arranged but dispiritingly small array of bottles and said " I give it a month" I would not go that far, but I certainly can't see it breaking the curse that is on that stretch of Exmouth Market