THE FOOD ROOM: MANGE TOUT ALIVE AND WELL SOUTH OF THE RIVER
Aware that I have a tendency not to stray from my own little bit of London if it can be possibly avoided, I decided to cut loose and try somewhere South of the river. It is not, I can assure you, a mistake I shall be making again any time soon if I have anything to do with it.
The other day, HP and I were discussing pork. We do this regularly and there is often drooling involved. HP mentioned The Food Room in Battersea whose chef is known for his "trilogy of pork" It sounded good, so sucking up my fear of that part of town, I made a reservation for Saturday night.
Beforehand, I agreed to meet HP at Borough Market for a drink at the Market Porter. By the time I arrived at a little after 6pm it was absolutely rammed, but I managed to get to the bar and order a couple of pints which we drank outside. There are few better things than standing outside a London pub on a Spring evening and we could quite happily have stayed there for a long time. However, we also wanted to try the Brew Wharf a relatively new bar converted from a part of Vinopolis in conjunction with the Meantime Brewery from Greenwich. Not really my kind of place. A wide range of the Meantime beers was on offer ( including stout and porter by the bottle ) along with their own house brewed Ordinary and Best but it was all served way too cold to appeal, I guess, to the younger clientele they were attracting. The music was far too loud and the droning beats were not really being appreciated by those having their drinks and the restaurant area was cavenous and empty.
So, we soon headed off to Waterloo and our trek to Queenstown Rd station. It was all a bit of an adventure and, if I had known how bad the meal was going to turn out to be, I would have packed sandwiches and a flask of tea.
Our reservation was for 8.30pm and we arrived a little early and were shown directly to a small table. The room reminded me of an "upmarket" provincial restaurant of the early 90's. Whitewashed walls, red stained wooden seats etc etc and, in truth, it about summed up the meal for me. They offered two set menus, one at £23.50 for three courses and one at £29.50 for three courses. Good value, it would appear when first looking at the dishes on offer. However, in the execution you can see that they have had to cut their cloth accordingly. Portions are lilliputian, ingredients appear to be of ordinary provenance and the place is woefully understaffed to the point that I would have had chance to catch up with a number of Russian novels of the 19th century between courses.
To begin with, HP ordered scallops while I went for a dark meat chicken terrine. They exemplified the meal for me. The scallops were not overcooked but lacked any sign of real skill in the preparation. The portion was tiny, three small scallops and they tasted of nothing. Compared to those I bought and cooked from Steve Hatt the other day there was barely any comparison. My terrine was well made with a decent texture but, again, lacked any flavour and sign of being seasoned at all. Terrines like this really benefit from a glug of something to lift them, but that would not,I guess, have been within the budget.
They have an interesting wine list and we chose a glass of a South African Chenin Blanc to have with our starters. It suited both dishes well. Creamy and delicious.
Then an interminable wait for our main courses as the two young women servers rushed from table to table trying to keep up and failing in the attempt. Finally, they arrived. For HP braised beef and veal and for me, natch, the Trilogy of pork which comprised a rillettes of pork in a puff pastry case, braised belly pork and, I think, an andouille sausage. Sounds good, no? Well it really wasn't. There was evidence that there was someone in the kitchen who can cook but there was no real flavour in the dishes to speak of. The pork dish was a real let down. On paper, it sounded perfect for me. In its execution, it lacked spark. The braised belly pork was two thin strips which needed something to counteract the natural fattiness of the meat. We made obvious comparisons to meals at The Trading House recently where a not disimilar dish was prepared with dexterity and real flair. The beef/veal combo was so blah, I cannot actually remember anything about it.
With it came the most laughable side dish imaginable. HP has a rule to always beware of anywhere offering " a selection of vegetables" how right he was. However, we made the mistake of ordering and for a mere £3 extra we got a small dish that consisted of a couple of roasted tomatoes ( not strictly a vegetable, but hey) button mushrooms and mange tout ( hurrah it's 80's night ) What the hell were they thinking?
We drank a Chateau De Negly from the Laungedoc which was well priced at £23 and very enjoyable
Another long wait before we received the dessert menu and decided just to share one pistachio tart with vanilla ice cream. This was actively disgusting. When it did arrive it looked like they had put it out under the heat lamps for a wile as the ice cream had melted to a pool of sludge. Even worse was the tart. A rock hard lumpen mess whose filling slid greasily off the plywood, er pastry base. I would have sent it back, but I knew that would add another hour on to our evening and by now, quite frankly, I just wanted to get out of there.
They have a fairly serious kitchen set up here which was on view as I headed to point percy at the porcelain. So, they obviously have aspirations to bigger and better things. I suggest they get the basics right first. I can understand why they offer the set meal to attract locals to what is, in effect, a neighbourhood place, packed as it was with South Londoners dressed up and enjoying a night out. But, the limitations of the budget shine through in every aspect of the restaurant from the decor, the lack of staff, the ingredients and the skill of the cooks. And, you know what? It still doesn't work out that cheap. £50 a head, in fact. I rarely begrudge a bill unless the food is truly noxious. But, that is taking the piss. Particularly as we were so hungry that HP polished off a scotch egg and some kabanos on his return that he had planned to have for Sunday lunch.
I did not take pictures of the food. I was afraid that we would end up being chased out of Battersea by locals carrying pitchforks and torches. As it was,we headed home with our tails between our legs,older and wiser if poorer by £50.
Now, remind me, why is it I don't do this more often?