"It's not much but it's ours"

Friday, May 05, 2006


There were three Mission Impossible’s at The Barbican tonight

One, would I make it all the way through a two hour movie without having to go and drain a middle aged bladder? I did. Does that mean I get the girl? And, if so, will I still remember what to do with her?

Two, Tommy boy’s mindless, perfectly formed and very enjoyable latest piece of hokum.

Three, having an edible meal in a public space such as a theatre, gallery or museum.

So, at a little after 8pm, we emerged from the recently refurbished Cinema One and did a walk in at Searcy’s, the Barbican’s in house attempt at decent dining.

It had some good reviews recently, primarily from Giles Coren which would, under normal circumstances make me want to run a hundred miles in the opposite direction. Still, it is close to home and, if it turned out to be lousy, at least I did not have a cab fare to fork out.

When we arrived, it was mid performance for the main shows, so the place was, bar two couples, completely empty. In a space as vast as this, that does make it seem a tad unwelcoming and cavernous, but we were given a decent table by the window with a nice view towards Cripplegate and St Paul’s.

They offer a “ Performance Menu” of two courses for £21.50 and three courses for £25.50. Reasonable value at first glance, but the menu is limited and, it soon becomes apparent that very little cooking is involved in bringing food from kitchen to table as most of the dishes are composed. From the point of view of the owners of the restaurant, the menu is a very sensible and efficient one. It is predicated almost entirely on pre prep which would, I guess allow them to get supper to people pre theatre lickety split in time to watch whatever it was they were going to see and talk bollocks about afterwards.

To be fair though, as HP pointed out, all the dishes are ones you would find on many more ambitious restaurants and, if the ingredients are good, then, well plated dishes can often be better than dishes that have been cooked poorly.

To begin, HP ordered a Foie Parfait ( from the specials ) with an onion marmalade and brioche. This was, quite frankly, as good an example as you could find in London. Perfect texture, very decent portions and not fridge fresh as is so often the case.

I went for a “house cured” hake fillet with clams and baby cress. Again, a composed dish of excellent provenance. Transparent wafers of hake with meaty clams and a salad of micro greens dressed in a wonderfully lawny olive oil.

For main courses, HP again chose from the specials ( in fact he chose the only specials ) a rib eye of steak with a Mushroom brulee, broccoli and jus. This showed where the kitchen was at its weakest. The one bit of cooking from scratch and the steak was more medium rare than rare. The beef did not seem to be of the top order either and the jus was too reduced to just the wrong side of gravy mix. The mushroom thingy was nice though.

My course was another composed course. A tartlet ( when does a tartlet become a tart? ) of Manouri, a Greek whey cheese. Yep, I chose the vegetarian option. Actually, not bad in a non descript “ let us never speak of this again” kind of way

They offer side dishes for £3. We did not have any, but saw plates of chunky chips ( looked pretty decent ) and roasted vegetables ( looked like roasted vegetables ) being taken to other tables

With this, a 300% marked up Chilean Cab Sav Rose ( £5.99 at your local Sommerfield ) which would have been fine had I bought it and glugged it back on the balcony. But, not paying £20!

Well, we were in the mood now and went for a dessert each. Both, yep, composed. No cooking needed. For HP a white chocolate mousse with raspberry ice cream and for me, poached rhubarb with mascarpone and a rhubarb jelly. Well prepared and decent flavours and, in many ways, better than so many blah molten chocolate blah de blah that you have to wait fifteen minutes for.

I had a glass of dessert wine and a fresh mint tea. HP had coffee and a grappa.

So, we went, as per usual, a little bit beyond the normal requirements of a simple supper and the bill consequently came to a frightening £101 for two inc 12.5% for service which was formal, efficient if ever so slightly unable to get past the fact that you were in no rush to wolf down food to go and see a show. A fact which led to hurried wine and water pouring.

I would imagine without our extra ordering and the service charge that gets whacked on that bit of the meal, a couple could come out of here at three courses for two people at c£75.

That’s a lot to pay for meals that to all intents and purposes have been plated rather than cooked. While the menu has been geared towards composition rather than anything else, is intelligently chosen and, on the whole, shows sign of thoughtful buying of ingredients. I can think of a lot better ways to spend that kind of money
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