THE PRINCESS OF SHOREDITCH: NEW DIRECTION NEEDS WORK
After reading a giddily enthusiastic review in Time Out and encountering a few equally positive chirpings on Twitter, I expected to echo Howard Carter’s exclamation of “Wonderful things” as I walked into The Princess of Shoreditch on Thursday and discovered the new space, the new owners and the new fine dining menu.
Instead I found that the bar looked little different to when I last set foot in the place just under three years ago. There was even the same personable barman, Alex. He still pours a terrific pint and I chatted to him over a jug of Sambrook's Wandle as I waited for my lunch companion, Oliver Thring to arrive.
The owners, who have been in place for over a year, have given the upstairs a lick of duck egg blue paint and the menu has been revamped upwards to create more distance between it and the “pub grub” of the downstairs bar area. That and Time Out’s rating seemed to have worked wonders and when we finished our pints and coiled up the spiral staircase the dining room was pretty much packed to capacity.
The new menu ticks most of the pre-requisite fine dining buttons. There are oysters to begin with, plus a soup, a parfait and a terrine. Nothing on there to scare anyone and, if prepared properly, nothing at all to complain about. Likewise on the list of main courses, which offer up couple of fish dishes, the almost inevitable use of pork belly and a named breed of dead cow. None of it is terribly inventive but comfortable enough for anyone tired of restaurants that believe every meal should be a journey of discovery.
Starters were a good indication of the way things were going to go. A foie gras and chicken liver parfait came served with a spiced poached plum and toast. The texture of the parfait was perfect, the toast warm and the horseradish dressing on the accompanying leaves an interesting touch. However, it lacked depth needing either one more twist of the pepper mill or a good glug of brandy to perk up an otherwise decent dish. Oliver’s butternut squash panna cotta was less successful. It was an ugly and unappealing plate of orange components none of which, from what I tasted, seemed to have any discernable flavour. Added to which, I can only hope that the days of the “skidmark” school of plate dressing will soon come to their natural end.
The cider braised belly pork of my main course was perfectly prepared. Unfortunately, the kitchen had done its best to hide the fact by smothering the two generous slabs with a thick glaze of one of those fearsome reductions which destroy all before them, so that all taste of pig was lost in the fall out. The carrot and anis puree was again delivered in “splodge” mode but not a bad addition, bringing a welcome touch of sweetness to the dish. It paled however against the star of the show a single slice of terrific black pudding, I suspect of the Clonakilty variety. This is a dish that could potentially be a contender, but only if the impressive quality of the ingredients is allowed to shine. In its current form, it is just a heap of textures with one taste.
I felt much the same way about Oliver’s plate of roasted mallard breast, which came with a small slab of seared foie gras, a confit of the leg and salsify. The ingredients, again, were obviously excellent and ably cooked, but were hampered by the addition of a “all bow down before me” sauce, which dominated the sample Oliver passed onto my plate.
There is obviously some real talent in the kitchen and investment in quality ingredients, both of which are welcome in a neighbourhood more used to eateries feeding stoned clubbers than serious diners. But, on the basis of these dishes, there is still work to be done to justify what ended up being a pretty hefty lunchtime bill. It came to £80 for the two courses and coffee and also included a bottle of Chilean Pinot, the cheapest on a short, but well priced wine list and a 12.5% charge for service which, as it always has been was excellent.
Any move to up the ante in a restaurant is always welcome and I wish the newly revamped Princess the best of luck. However, with higher prices come higher customer expectations and the cooking at The Princess of Shoreditch needs to up its game if it is to meet those of the bald, short, fat half of DH and, don't forget, I am the cheery one who is easy to please. God help them if HP goes in.