WHITECHAPEL GALLERY DINING ROOM: INSTITUTIONAL
In the first photo of this post you can see HS scratching his head. This should really be the last picture as we’re still wondering how the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room had managed to extract £32 odd quid a head (after 20% discount) from us in a little over one hour for food which even the most benign consumer would describe as inept.
I’ll admit I did have my misgivings before we visited. Like a lot of similar organisations in London the newly opened gallery on Whitechapel High Street has enlisted the services of a third party for their catering – in this case a company called Vacherin.
Of all the places I’ve tried which have followed a similar model the results have always been underwhelming verging on, well, crap. How could it be otherwise ? The more companies and consequently, bean counters, you put into the equation the less dosh there will be at the end of the chain to spend on the final product.
To be honest the menu didn’t entice us like a good menu should i.e. encourage us to over-order. It was enthusiastically priced (potatoes and crème fraiche for £4.50 anybody ?) and if there’d been a copy of it online we probably wouldn’t have visited. In the end it was a case of damage limitation which is not a good way to start a meal.
We do, very occasionally, have our expectations confounded by restaurants, but as a rule we can more or less sniff out what a place is going to be like pretty damn quickly. In this case it took about a second for HS to tear off a bit of the bread and wonder how a new place could serve something so tough and stale on their opening day.
On paper my salad of Broccoli, Boiled Egg, Dandelion and Berkswell cheese didn’t sound too shoddy but that’s where it should have remained: on paper. The Broccoli was overcooked, the Egg white undercooked and there was some unadvertised, overdressed leaves that made the whole a soggy mess.
HS’s Eel Pate had a decent taste although it had an odd, loose texture and was pretty parsimonious for £7.75. The marinated beets were limp and acidic and didn’t really marry very well with the Eel.
I think my main course of Lamb was supposed to be some sort of riff on Moroccan cuisine with a spice-encrusted rump of Lamb and a Brik containing braised Lamb Shoulder. It could have been a good dish but was let down by tough and tasteless meat and the bizarre addition of Chickpea ‘chips’ which were dry and not very nice. The latter possibly being taken from the Chef’s new book. Modern Vegetarians everywhere, let me say you’re more than welcome to them.
HS’s bunny had been wrapped around a herby stuffing which is basically all you could taste – Sage to be more exact. It sat on a non-descript blob of white bean puree in a non-descript gravy. The only thing of any merit were some baby roasted fennel which hinted at what might have been.
Similarly, Treacle Tart could have/should have been great but tasted as if it had been sitting around since J the R was plying his bloody trade in the neighbourhood, so tough was the pastry. The Treacle component was oversweet, the other bits and bobs wholly pointless. We couldn’t finish it.
I’m at a loss to explain this gaff. Although it’s a brand new opening, they have a chef who, if her CV is anything to go by, has plenty of experience. They weren’t mobbed – there was only one other table occupied. The ingredients, while not stellar, were good enough for a competent cook to produce something tasty with.
Later I looked at our bill and noticed that although we had asked for tap water there was charge of £1 for mineral water. I assume this was a cover charge and included the bread although there was no reference to it on the menu.
There was however plenty of puff relating to the chef’s aforementioned book and sentences chock full of au courant food-related buzzwords (seasonal, sustainable, local, organic, blah, blah) which would be fine if the food wasn’t so, er, blah and which tells you where the company’s focus really lies.