THE SALISBURY: BOTTOM FEEDING II
I blame Fergus Henderson. He was the man responsible for introducing England to the pared-down style of menu that has spawned a myriad imitations. Actually, the Continentals have been doing the same thing for years – when you order a Steak in Spain that’s precisely what you get.
What you also get, or rather should get, in both instances is an impeccably cooked piece of meat or fish of excellent provenance. Anything less and the dish fails. There’s nowhere to hide with this style of cooking. Now I expect all plainly written menus to deliver on their (unwritten) promise.
So when I saw the word Chipolatas on the menu at The Salisbury, a refurbed pub in one of the grottier parts of Fulham, my foodie bones kicked in and I imagined, not just any Chipolatas but the best ever Chipolatas. The Chipolatollahs if you will.
What I got was certainly extraordinary. Extraordinary in that they didn't have a cocktail stick protuding from them. They were the sort of Chipolatas that'd you'd get, and avoid, at the Office Christmas Party. Luke warm and overcooked the four sad specimens (£3) sat there mocking me. They seemed to be saying How you like me now, foodie-boy ?
Those naughty little Chipolatas weren’t alone, oh no. Food this bad doesn’t come alone. Crab (£3.95) had been mixed with mayonnaise and put on a piece of bread which had been dipped in egg and allowed to dry. Well, it looked that way. There was also a spoonful of something that tasted mostly of garlic.
Coming at me from my right was a couple of Welsh Rarebits (£1.95). I speared one of these bad boys with my fork and yellow gunk spurted out - much like lancing a particularly ripe boil. How one can fuck up Cheese on Toast at any time, let alone in a restaurant completely unencumbered by customers beats me but the kitchen had managed in spectacular fashion. Bringing up the rear were some greasy Blue Cheese Fritters (£2.00). I didn’t have the cojones to find out what the cheese was or why it was blue.
To my right were the heavy mob. Foie Gras (£6.00) bore some resemblance to that engorged liver and was probably the most edible thing on the table but that’s not saying much. It was supposed to come on toast but as evinced by some of the other wheat-based small plates on show this is obviously a kitchen that finds the act of putting bread under a grill as arcane and mind-bogglingly difficult as constructing one of Heston B’s Ejaculating Puddings. Sweetbreads (£2.95) had been woefully undercooked. This is a kitchen that does not understand that fire is our friend.
All the dishes were pretty nasty but not nearly as nasty as the Chicken Curry (£4.00). When I saw it on the menu, I yet again failed to connect with reality as I conjured up a vision of a chef – maybe one looking not dissimilar to HB – leafing through the pages of an old cookery book, possibly Victorian, to come up with an authentic curry from the last days of the Raj (good name for a restaurant). The contents of the small bowl on the table looked like it had come from the seepage of the Welsh Rarebit except it smelled, much, much worse. I tentatively fished around inside the yellow liquid and came up with some pieces of meat that could have been anything, so grey and overcooked, were they. The smell was, how shall I put it, quite pungent. I managed a single sip without gagging.
I’m a greedy bugger by nature so even if food is poor I’ll still hoover it up but in this case I just couldn’t. The whole thing was so miserable, so utterly awful and easily the worst meal I’ve had in London that all I could do was laugh disbelievingly and ask for the bill. The friendly waitress didn’t even notice I’d left most of the food or if she did it didn’t phase her. She did ask if everything was ok but how do you break it to her, and the rest of the onlooking staff that the food is crap. Gentle reader, I bottled it.
Once outside the cold air brought me to my senses and I realised I couldn’t let the night end on such a down note. Someone once said if you have a bad meal, go and have another [meal]. It was only a short hop to the rather wonderful Harwood Arms where I managed to squeeze in at the bar for a pint of Black Sheep and one of their fantastic Veal Scotch Eggs all served by the world’s most attractive barmaid. Suddenly, The Salisbury seemed a long time ago. Let's hope I'm not given to flashbacks.