Drive West on Sunset to the Sea (A slight return)
Many, many years ago I used to live in Holland Park. Of course, Elsham Road being West of Holland Road, is in fact on the wrong side of the tracks so I never had the good fortune to bump into Michael Winner. What I did have though were several very good places to eat. A Thai restaurant (in the days when the curry didn’t come out of a packet), a couple of places on Addison Gardens (whose names escape me) and the ace Cibo where I broke the £100 barrier for the first time on a meal for two.
My favourite night out, though, was an indie flick at The Gate cinema or a blockbuster at The Coronet (the only cinema where smoking was allowed, some say compulsory). After the film it was de rigeur to pop next door into Geales for Fish and Chips (or sometimes Costas up the road). You’d order a pint or glass of wine from the separate business running the booze operation, eat Haddock and Chips cooked in beef dripping at gingham-covered tables and finish off with some ice-cream. It was a little piece of Yorkshire in Notting Hill.
Fast forward to a midweek lunch at the newly refurbed Geales now with Gary Hollihead (exec chef at The Embassy) at the helm. The restaurant was a few weeks late opening, as so many are these days. It can’t have been down to the décor which screams bland. They also, seem to have reduced the number of tables – the whole feels like an ill-fitting suit. There was a strangely ghostly feel about the place as well, exacerbated by the lack of custom although I was told it had been very busy for the past five days they had been open.
In spite of the small number of covers to look after, the service seemed distracted and confused, although well-meaning. Worse culprits were the bar staff who needed several goes to get a drink order right. Anyway, the food’s the thing, so after choosing from the previous day’s menu, getting the correct menu and ascertaining that Whitebait was no longer on I went for the Prawn Cocktail followed by the F&C, Mushy Peas, Pickled Onions and Tartare Sauce.
Prawn Cocktail is one of those dishes that, unless you’re going to do a full Ferrán and deconstruct the hell out of it, is better left in its classic form. Geales version, unfortunately, was neither classic nor wackily realised, just bland like the décor. The ‘marie rose’ component was a solid layer of cold mayonnaise with not enough kick. The prawns underneath were fresh enough but the taste was further blanded out by avocado (why ?). There were a few desultory pieces of lettuce and a whole lot of chopped spring onion (again why ?). As a final annoyance, someone had thought it a good idea to put the food into a lob-sided container (why oh why ?) making it difficult to scoop anything out. Maybe an non-opening lid would have been a good idea.
Happily, the Fish and Chips were better: a small fillet of Haddock was fresh and properly cooked in some good batter. There were some okay chips as well although the dish they came in was so tiny it could appear in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Tartar sauce was non-descript and the sweet pickled onions were more like Italian marinated ones (Cippolina ?). Some new scientific technique was obviously involved in producing such a small portion of mushy peas (if that was what they were) and their flavour was obviously affected by the process: they were pretty nasty.
A selection of homemade ice cream to finish was one of the best things about the meal.
So after all this time was it worth the wait ? Not really. If you live in the area I suppose a visit would be harmless enough so long as you stick to F&C followed by the ice cream, avoid the mushy peas and get your drink order sorted out early. But in their attempt to gussy the place up they’ve stripped out all the soul (perhaps they did it just for the Halibut…sorry). The food and service just aren’t consistent enough to warrant a trip across town. Oh and I miss the tablecloths.
If you want fancy schmancy I would suggest Scott’s or JSheeky, if you want the proper stuff take a nice bottle of wine to the Golden Hind (probably not more than 15 minutes away by tube and foot). Trust me – I’m an Hermano.