ODETTE'S : BRYN REINED IN
First of all, I have to apologise for the quality of the images tonight.
The lighting in Odette's is very muted and, I did not want to use my flash for fear of offending the locals.
Mind you, it is that kind of place. Entirely predicated on offending as few people as possible.
I recall, a few years ago, describing Hywel Jones cooking at Lola’s like being a Spitfire engine in a Reliant Robin body. Well, tonight’s meal was more like having a gifted child on a leash so they can’t do any harm.
There was noting actively bad about it but the tastes had been neutered so as not to frighten the local populace of Primrose Hill. As HP put it “ it is the sort of place you could bring your grandparents without them being scared by any unnecessary flavours”
Our table was booked for 8pm and, when we arrived, it was already bustling and we were shown to a grim table right by the door. They moved us straight away but we still suffered shocking drafts of cold wind every time someone entered or left the restaurant.
The room is actively the worst I can recall, all chintz curtains and garish wallpaper and so many tables are crammed in that every time neighbouring tables were being served I came face to face with the backside of the front of house.
That was, however, the only contact we had with him as this was also some of the least engaging service we have encountered for a long time. Our immediate server was fine, but the rest of the staff seemed distant and disinterested and no one bothered to explain the tasting menu at all. Not that it looked particularly interesting.
We began with an amuse of Fennel soup with olive croutons. Not another plate of foaming nothingness? Oh yes. And nothing was what it tasted of with no depth of flavour. More like a weak cup a soup. A bad start.
A bad start compounded by some very ordinary bread which had dried out slightly.
For our starter’s HP ordered a ballotine of quail served on a remoulade. Both unremarkable and under seasoned. It looked pretty and tasted of nothing. I had chosen a simple salad of a poached duck egg on a salad of pea shoots and wild mushrooms. While the pea shoots were fresh and crisp the dressing was too sharp and the duck egg was cold leaving the yolk to ooze out and form a cloying covering to the wild mushrooms. The egg came on top of a small square of bread which had been partly toasted but not enough to add a counter point of texture.
So far, so ordinary. The best thing about it was the glasses of Chardonnay we chose from the decent “ by the glass” list.
For main courses, HP chose Williams’ signature dish of turbot with cockles. Made famous of course, when it was voted on to the menu for the Queen’s birthday. Well, it was just the dish for an 80 year old woman. The turbot was very good, but that was offset by gritty cockles and a reduction that was reminiscent of just about every high end restaurant in London. Again, inoffensive.
My dish of venison was better and provided the only “ oh, that’s good” moment of the entire meal. Slices of perfectly cooked venison came with a crispy square of confit shoulder which was spot on. A small sludge of truffled potatoes did not add much though and the sauce, advertised as “ bitter chocolate” was right in one regard and it wasn’t the chocolate bit. Not great but certainly the better of the two.
The menu offers two courses for £30 ( I think ) and three courses for £40. The desserts were not really worth the extra £10 and we were slightly dispirited as we looked at the identikit list. Chocolate? Check. Souffle? Check.
HP’s Panna Cotta was, however perfect consistency and flecked with vanilla. It came with some fruit whose provenance we could not discern but it would not have mattered anyway as it was to heavily sprinkled with overpowering basil shreds.
A poached pear sable looked the part, but again the flavours were non descript apart from a very good dribble of salt caramel.
The new owners ( the people from the Mean Fiddler I think) obviously have stars in their eyes as certain elements of Michelin schtick were in full effect. The napkin test and the mint tea test were aced with aplomb and service while charmless was prompt.
However, they just get too many elements wrong to ever be in with a hope. Cold duck eggs and the wrong glasses for the wine ( a passable Trinity Pinot from New Zealand at £32 ) being just two examples.
The bill for two came to a massive £140 including service. That is a lot to pay for food that seems to have had all seasoning and interest surgically removed just before leaving the kitchen.
All of my grandparents have shuffled off this mortal coil, unfortunately. But, if I wanted to go back to Odette's again, I think I might have to ask someone if I could borrow theirs, they would feel right at home.