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

Monday, October 23, 2006


It really was a tale of two openings. They could not, however, have been more different.

On Friday, a really excellent meal at Upper Glas followed tonight by a meal at St Germain, on Turnmill St,of such irredeemable awfulness that new words will have to be created to communicate just how lousy it was. So bad, we are still laughing about it as I write this

HP had its number from the beginning. Mind you, any restaurant that declares on its website an aim to combine classic Parisian brasserie cooking with the uber glamour of their New York counterparts like Balthazar is showing an extraordinary amount of hubris and so must perish in the first burst of fire.

There was only one other table occupied in the room and it is clear to see where all the money has been spent, on expensive light fittings and a smart bar. It certainly isn’t on quality ingredients or quality staff for this was one of the worst meals with the most inept service I can ever recall eating.

From the moment the friendly but poorly trained waitress plonked some wafer thin and entirely flavourless bread in front of us with some butter that tasted as if it had been sitting around too long (quite a feat in a restaurant that has just opened) there was not a single second where any level of competence was on show in front of house or particularly in the kitchen.

I am not drinking now for the next couple of weeks to try and clean out the system before the NYC Marathon, so I just went for a diet Coke. Flat as a pancake. That is what was left in my glass after it had been sploshed over me and the table. A good start. HP went for a 500ml carafe of Rioja which had been handily placed somewhere hot until it got warm enough to be tasteless. Mind you it was one of the only things in the whole meal that was warm.

To begin with, our usual assortment of three starters.

The “Chef” here obviously has arsonphobia, a fear of heat and flames as the toast with HP’s pork rillette was no such thing. More of that floppy bread. The meat had a decent texture but no flavour at all even when HP dumped ample seasoning on it.

My Frisee au lardon was not much cop either. Cold and composed, the lardons were chewy but less chewy than the croutons. Really a disgrace to the name.

Much worse, so much worse was a shared dish of Potted Shrimp (that staple of Brasseries all over Paris ) which turned out to be a pool of melted butter ( cold of course ) with a handful of shrimp dumped in it served, in case we had not got the theme of the evening, with more flaccid bread only this time a different colour. When I pointed out to our waitress that Potted Shrimp should traditionally be solid, she just shrugged her shoulders and said “ oh, really?” Yes, Love, really.

That this vileness in shrimp form got to our table tells you all you needed to know about this restaurant. No one knew it was wrong and no one cared. No one really seemed to care about anything.

We began to dread our main courses in the way that you might a visit to a dentist with a bad case of the DT’s. We were right. They were, if it is possible, even more ghastly than the starters.

A rib eye steak brought shame to the name. Just at the time when London is seeing a handful of restaurants that can serve decent steak, this lump of poor quality flesh takes it right back to the dark age of Berni Inn in one swoop. It was rare as ordered, but again I think that was down to the chef’s fear of flame as it showed no sign of being near a grill. Worse still were the chips. Frites, straight out of a fast food catering pack and cooked until just pale by holding them close to a very bright light bulb, I think as, patently no fryer was involved.. Disgusting is the only word. Even more shameful for costing £17.

I had wanted to go for the daily special of pork shoulder with apple sauce and crackling only to be told that “ it is not coming with crackling today” Er, presumably pork comes with crackling by default unless, that is, you have a chef who does not like high temperatures. Perhaps, their crackling supplier let them down on opening night, damn him. For pity’s sake.

So, I went for coq au vin. From this point on renamed as Cocked up au vin. Not as dreadful as HP’s dish but again featuring a main ingredient of such low quality one wonders why they don’t just get sponsorship from Aldi and have done with it. More of those chewy lardons, a few baby onions and a chunk of chicken cooked separately and showing no sign of having been marinaded whatsoever.

A side dish for a mere £3 was the oldest, driest most stringy spinach in Christendom. When the waitress came to clear our table we complained about it, the chips, the steak. Well, pretty much about everything.

The person who appeared to be doing all of the front of house duties did come over and ask us what our complaints were. I told her, HP kept silent. If he had really got going the poor girl would still be there now and probably there would be tears involved. I took pity on her. She did not take pity on us and offered us a free dessert. Callous woman. Unsurprisingly we declined politely. Calm on the outside, while inside we were both re-enacting Munch’s The Scream at the thought of eating any more of this slop.

Instead, she gave us the promotional price for the meal and knocked 50% of our food bill which still saw us forking out £59 for two. Without the discount, the bill would have been £80 for two.

That’s £80 for a meal so shoddy you cannot simply put it down to first night nerves but have to put it down to a restaurant where all the money has been spent on the décor and none on finding competent staff or decent ingredients.

This was certainly my worst meal of the year and I am hard pressed to think of any meal in recent memory that was so abject a failure in every aspect.

The first picture is of HP looking like he is about to vomit after our meal. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps, I should have just posted that
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