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

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Now all the angles have been played in three's
There isn't much that I can say

Apropos of nothing in particular (although I have just come back from Spain) Spanish TV chefs are hopeless. They really are. Every time I watch them – although there only seem to be three in total – they’re always making the same thing, usually gazpacho, sometimes empanada, occasionally pork fillets fried with green peppers. The Spanish do however eat very well in restaurants at just about every level: from the humble comedor to the Michelin starred.

We, in Britain have a lot of TV chefs. We have shedloads of them. Some of them are even good. You see their faces on the merchandise they’re pushing. Unlike Spain though we eat well in very few places in the UK. A meal here is going to be expensive and average or (most likely) shit. Our fascination with celebrity and novelty blinds us to how awful some of our food is. In Spain you can go into any asador and experience cooking as craft and be pretty sure of a decently cooked and tasty steak every time. I couldn’t get that in the much hyped and lauded Maze Grill at over forty quid. Just for the poor cow.

Similarly, professional critics have been wetting their pants over Hix Oyster and Chop House where I found the ingredients to be average and the execution amateurish. I can only assume the praise for this joint is down to Mark Hix having a lot of friends. That, or it takes a lot of brown-nosing to get membership of the soon-come Ivy private members club (it’s probably safe to say that Hix and AAGill already have theirs).

The point is (I think) why am I getting so many duff meals and paying through the nose for them.

Ok rant over,

I’d visited Thomas Cubitt a year or so ago and had a decent meal. If you avoid the downstairs which is full of young, annoying, braying toffs and eat in the upstairs restaurant where the slightly-less annoying parents hang then you’d have a reasonable time. From memory the meat cooking was pretty good but generally it all tended to heavy-handedness: over-reduced sauces and the like. The owners have obviously done well enough though to open up a sibling venue a bit deeper into Belgravia.

This is consulate country: big flags, big limos, big men in suits. Using the word gastropub to describe The Pantechnicon Rooms is as inappropriate as the sounds emanating from HS when he’s asleep. There’s a downstairs bar and a plush dining room which although oddly bereft of tablecloths (Thomas Cubitt has them) had thick brass-edged tables and big chairs with enough cowhide to accommodate my big butt.

Looking around a full dining room I got the impression that most of those eating here didn’t lose any sleep over keeping up with their mortgage repayments. This was especially true of the American at the next table who seemed very keen to let his dining companion, and the rest of the room, know that him and his “buddies” all had very large wine cellars. I later looked up the definition of knobhead and whaddya know there was a picture of his fat stupid face gurning back at me.

If the food at Thomas Cubitt was more meaty in bias then The Pantechnicon Rooms was of the fishy persuasion. Most of the first half of the menu and a chunk of the second is given over to seafood in one form or another but the separate section for Caviar probably gives the game away re who their intended audience really is. The prices for Shellfish are no less scary - twelve quid for a prawn cocktail anyone ?

Deciding on the cheaper option of Oysters I was disappointed with the flavour six Fin de Clair Rocks. They looked the business but lacked the brininess and length of taste of good natives. Not even close and there wasn’t even the compensating factor of plenty of flesh that you usually get with rocks.

Barbequed Quail with Baked Ricotta and Date Chutney sounded a lot more interesting than it actually looked. You’d have thought that at £8.50 for a Quail they could have spatchcocked the whole thing but instead and with breathtaking parsimony they’d jointed and skewered two small joints. The Barbeque must have been still heating up (I told you to start it earlier) given the lack of colour on the skin. The accompanying cheese was a small dried out, chalky tasting lump, topped off with half a grapefruit segment for reasons that only the chef would know. There was a soft wafer of bacon and some unnecessary leaves. The only thing not screwed up on this dish was the date chutney but then I’m guessing it wasn’t made ici.

The mysterious Rose Veal was in fact a poor attempt at a Wiener Schnitzel. Any qualities the meat possessed were more or less totalled by the oily breadcrumb coating. It came with some unbilled and dull pommes puree. The chips were prosaic and not worthy of further comment.

Going to new restaurants is a lot like going out on a first date. You get the initial thrill of making contact with the target of your amorous endeavours and arrange a date and time. Then there’s the excitement of the build up to the actual event and the counting down of the days. On the day itself, you reconfirm that it’s all going ahead. You spruce yourself up a bit. Maybe there’s a little, shall we say, stiffener, beforehand. You meet up and there’s the first impressions and all that getting to know one another stuff.

Then it all starts going downhill. It’s not what you expected at all. You’re disappointed, upset even. And it’s expensive. Finally, you decide to bail out before pudding and mutter something about everything being “ok” when prompted (or if you’ve overdone the stiffener throw a right wobbler and put the world to rights in a frighteningly coherent and yet nutzoid manner). There isn’t a second time.

Sound familiar ? I don’t have much luck with restaurants either.

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