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

Sunday, October 01, 2006


This brother is free
I'll be what I want to be

Many, many years ago my granddad, who worked as a messenger for a shipping company, used to take me with him on his trips on and around the Thames. These usually involved a stop at a pub where I was left outside with a small bottle of lemonade and a bag of crisps whilst Arthur chatted with his chums over a few of light and bitters. What I most remember about those times (apart from the pop and the loneliness) was the many small dark, dank streets bordering the Thames east of London Bridge. Very Dickensian. Very cliched.

Fast-forward to today and one of the biggest changes in London over the past couple of decades has been the regeneration of the eastern parts of the city especially in areas such as Wapping. Back in the day (did I just say that ?) one would have been at risk of getting duffed up by footpads and other rapscallions. Now the only danger is that you might be run over by an Ocado van or trip over somebody’s organic vegetable box.

I’d passed Wapping Food many times on the way to visit friends so a Sunday with no piece of dead flesh occupying my fridge and HS at work preparing for the FBF found me strolling the three or so miles down to the Thames at Wapping.

But first a pint in one of London’s oldest pubs The Prospect of Whitby unfortunately home to a pretty crappy pint of Greene King IPA that had as much depth as an AA Gill review. I ended up leaving half of it. Exactly like an AA Gill review then.

Luckily WF is just a short hop across the road. So I sauntered over being careful to avoid the coach parties from Rhyl. Then there was the embarrassment of not being to locate the entrance and once I had got in spending an awkward eternity standing like a lost lemon in the entrance waiting for someone to seat me. Never was a cold glass of fino better earned.

The restaurant occupies a church-like space of a late nineteenth century power station. There’s still a fair bit of iron-mongery around to show you how good the Victorians were at this heavy engineering lark (I hear they weren’t so nice to kids or the poor, though). There’s also an art exhibition in the adjoining hall which people were wandering into between courses. It reminded me a bit of my first school – I half expected Mrs Saunders to come through the door and everybody to lower their heads in fear. Scholastic nightmares aside it’s a pretty relaxed sort of place with families having brunch which segues into lunching couples followed by your mum and dad having afternoon tea.

Maybe I should have been in more of an easy like sunday morning frame of mind but the tardy service got on my nerves to the point where I was ready to quit. Things picked up though once the food started arriving.

Usually the first taste of food in a restaurant tells you as much about the level of the cooking as any subsequent mouthfuls so when I sampled my starter I knew everything was going to be ok. Seared scallops, cauliflower puree, chorizo and watercress was a good combo. Sweet, slightly caramelised scallops came on a base of cauliflower puree with some slices of fried chorizo and watercress. The only off note was the puree which betrayed a slightly heavy hand with the saltshaker. An almost exclusive Aussie wine list offered up a Chard which seemed to work quite well.

Around this time the heavens opened and there was a hailstorm. The old Wapping Station roof wasn’t up to the job and I began to get a soaking. Luckily I had a brolly so was able to protect my starter, wine and camera although I got some strange looks from neighbouring tables. Maybe it’s because it’s unlucky to open a brolly indoors.

The deluge soon abated and on the food front things got even better with Pancetta wrapped Guinea fowl (a good quality bird), tarragon and roast garlic bread pudding. This came with sautéed spinach and sat in a light puddle of gravy. The pudding was especially good which despite looking like it would be a leaden affair was in fact light, subtly flavoured and extremely moreish. Oh I also had some fried potatoes with a not very garlicky aioli. Is there any point in an aioli which doesn’t taste of garlic ?

Wine wise I’d moved onto a Shiraz/Cab Sav blend which mellowed me out to the point of believing that the service was getting better and better. I was also starting to fall in love with all the waitresses so perhaps I wasn’t being completely objective. Still, it’s what you feel that counts.

I felt too full to have a pudding but I had one anyway (HS expects): a very full-on chestnut parfait with chocolate mousse surrounded by bits of honeycomb and drizzled with syrup. A far too sweet and rich way to end the meal but I expect they wanted to deliver something that lived up to the £6 price tag. Dear reader, I finished that pudding.

I’d tell you all about the double espresso and glass of good grappa, but you probably already knew.

So then, no culinary fireworks but good ingredients prepared by people who can cook .I always think this is a bit of a result in London these days which probably shows how far we still have to go to become a great restaurant city (especially on the service front). Though as Mama sang “it’s getting better every day”.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite right HP, the beer at TPOW is a disgrace. Am I alone in thinking that a decent pint is becoming harder to procure? I'm sending pints back with alarming regularity.

Are we heading to the scenario where proper beer is only available at specialist joints (Wenlock, White Horse) and everywhere else is awash with Mangers and Stella?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006 8:11:00 am  

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