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

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Larder

Hot licks and rhetoric
Don't count much for nothing

As Wikipedia has it: Chutzpah is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. In London’s trendy Clerkenwell, an area brimming with eateries, you’d need plenty of the good sort to open a 100+ cover restaurant. But that’s what the owners of The Larder have done in what is billed as London’s biggest independent opening.

I was drawn in by the husband and wife team behind The Larder handing out menus. I was given a brief tour of the place which is one of the biggest single-floor restaurants I’ve been to in a while. It’s got the feel of a work in progress, and that’s not just the décor.

First the good things. The service was enthusiastic and generally on the ball (as it should be on the second day of opening). There were some drinkable wines by the glass: I had a nice, crisp, glass of verdejo served in Spiegelau stemware. And the coffee was good (although not up to Monmouth Coffee standards).

The quality of the cooking was problematic, however. The two dishes in my meal that didn’t require any pre-prepping were not good. A dish of Baby Squid and King Prawns featured some slightly tough cephalopods (more toddler than baby) and some overcooked prawns. There was no sign of any charring suggesting the grill wasn’t hot enough when they were cooked. Some sliced sprues of Asparagus were in the wrong dish. Worse though, the whole dish had been dressed in an unadvertised oil and Tomato Concasse which coated the mouth and lingered like the guest who wouldn’t leave.

I suspect that the grill was the culprit again in a rib-eye steak that didn’t have much colour on the outside and was raw (not rare as requested) on the inside. The chips however, were very, very good (yet again, dear reader, I finished every last one of them).

My other starter of a Duck rillette was much better and evinced signs of capability in the kitchen. It was well made with a good texture and tasted nicely ducky (ducky). I also liked the little jelly of pear and thyme used to seal the dish.

The ice creams were billed as homemade and weren’t bad at all although they looked a little forlorn and alone in their big dish (a bit like me in the restaurant). Some shortbread or a tuile of some sort would have shuzzed up the dish a bit.

So the owners of The Larder have big plans for it: there’s a bar, a bakery, there will be a take-away section and the place is open for breakfast - I was shown a pretty extensive menu which reminded me of the choice you get in US Diners. It’s all very ambitious.

My only concern is that all this seems to be underpinned by a kitchen that couldn’t cook a rare steak. I hope I’m wrong as I like to see independent places doing good but at the same time they have do be good at doing. There’s no room for sentiment in the restaurant business even with all the Chutzpah in the World.

PS To anyone helping themselves from the copious rosemary bushes outside (and at a retail cost of 70p for a few sprigs I wouldn't blame you) they know you're doing it. So do the honest thing and go in and buy something. It's good Karma.

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