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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


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.

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Anonymous Harry.T said...

As soon as you read the blurb on the chef and her V book,you should have pulled out your silver bullets,crucifixes,garlic etc.
Anyone whose "rep" is based on V food,basically cannot cook-as V food is "not food as we know it".It is a denial of food and the our genetic make-up as omnivores.So,insipid blobs of this and that should not have surprised you.When you see V heavily touted,run,run very fast,and if necessary...trip HS !

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 9:02:00 am  
Anonymous Ben said...

Thanks for taking one for the team (not for the first time). Was thinking of going tonight. Tayyabs looking infinitely more enticing now...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 9:42:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are those spinach leaves garnishing the treacle tart?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 10:53:00 am  
Blogger goodshoeday said...

Do you think either Vacherin or Whitechapel Gallery know that when you click on the link to Vacherin on the Chef profile page it takes you to a cheese exporters site.....shows the (in)ability to properly execute simple tasks me thinks ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 6:59:00 pm  
Blogger Gavin said...

Looks like we had a narrow escape when we visited last week. The dining rooms were not yet open so had a quick look at the cafe. Seven quid 50 for a small Mrs King's pork pie? Straight up to Tayyab's.

The Guernica facsimile is bloody fantastic though.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 7:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your comments with interest as I was booked in to the Dining Rooms on Saturday.

Looks like you visited on their very first day of operation - I went last night, our food was all excellent and the place was full.

No, it isn't the cheapest place on the block, but if you want cheap food you can go to any of the curry joints on Brick Lane and have a very different experience.

BTW, the links look like they have been fixed now too on the website.

However, I do agree with Gavin - the Guernica facsimile is bloody fantastic!

Sunday, April 19, 2009 10:36:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Hello Anonymous,

So what's your point ? That we went too early ? If a kitchen can't produce a good meal for two tables then they haven't got much hope.

You're also making the mistake of thinking your views are as valid as ours. You can see where we've been and what we've eaten for the past few years. What's your eating out experience ? And what did you have and why was it 'all excellent' ?


Sunday, April 19, 2009 11:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Hector C. said...

H1 seems out of sorts these days....
However I agree with his comment that restaurants shd be ready from the get go.After all,this is not the first meal they have ever cooked,and I am sure they have had ample time to check out all the equipment.So no excuses.
This is also why I don't understand the decision by that blousy Scottish woman DH know so well,not to review restaurants when they open,but only much later.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 8:59:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My opinion isn't important (natch - this is your blog, not mine).

However, try Fay Mashler's review today in the Evening Standard, I believe she may have eaten enough hot dinners to satisfy your quest for reviewers with experience?!

Happy eating

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 12:19:00 pm  
Anonymous Andy Williams said...

Is Fay Maschler still alive?
And more importantly,can she actually eat anything that is not mush these days?
Isn't she about 100 yrs old now?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:59:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

But you felt like sharing it with us nevertheless while trying to be a smart arse at the same time.

Re FM I don't think it comes across as a particulary ringing endorsement. What are you, a PR for Vacherin ?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 3:19:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Hector C

No just fed up with duff food. I also objected to the commenter's patronising comments re Brick Lane.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009 3:24:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Yup FM is sill going strong. Just been reading an old restaurant guide by her from the mid-Eighties.

Remarkable staying power.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009 11:29:00 pm  
Anonymous tonimoroni said...

I've noticed the disparity between the Bros' reviews and FM before. Each to their own, but if I said what I thought about FM as a reviewer I'd probably get you both into trouble!

Thursday, April 23, 2009 7:50:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have eaten here twice now -- why didn't I check here first? -- and, yes, there is something distinctly off about the food at Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room. Don't know about the V diagnosis but horrible mish moshes appear -- bream with chestnut cream heavily flavoured with vanilla, brisket with barley tasting the way my leftover stews do when I am considering whether they are actually dangerous to eat (sour, fermented), and the endless sugar with savoury: the raisins with pigeon, the pear chutneys, the fruit bread, no doubt wd go down well at Roman dinner party ....

However, have to take issue re GHASTLY Guernica tapestry, How did this come about? Someone thought,good attempt, Picasso, but what what's needed is some brown in your picture and wouldn't it be better as something warm and nubbly and woven?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 5:54:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First thing I would like to say is in food we all have differnt tastes and that we cant always be pleased.
I agree that the menu is a bit of a "Chef's statement" (Maybe a bit of a book sales pitch?)and clearly a american style theme to the menu.
Portion's are straight out of the USA with maybe quanity rather quality.
The menu's have no essence and no origanlity to them.

Got to say the site is great and keep up the good work!

Monday, March 01, 2010 10:28:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Got to agree with the other's, the menu was just so crap.
Nothing on the menu has the wow factor to it.
I think we can all say that we dont mind paying alot for good food because the eating expirence it leaves is never forgotton.
The book needs to be burned and maybe the chef needs to be sat down by her company and explain what chickpea chips actually add to a dish,because it was not flavour.
Clearly a chef being hired on rep rather than skills.

Monday, March 01, 2010 10:34:00 pm  

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