101 PIMLICO ROAD: ROOM FOR ONE MORE ?
To paraphrase one of the unelected parasites that laud it over us and for whom life seems to be one long holiday (Mustique, Klosters, Balmoral):
2009 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure – [as far as London restaurant openings have been concerned] it has turned out to be an Annus Horribilis.
For Dos Hermanos the best eating experiences this year have been outside London. Decent meals in the capital have, for the most part, been thin on the ground and when we did eat something that passed muster it was usually in a place that opened before 2009.
Why ? Well, maybe having to fulfil contractual obligations before the S hit the F has meant that establishments have had to economise. Perhaps the increase in business rents has resulted in margins that have been squeezed until the pips squeak.
My theory is that it’s probably all of the above plus the fact that we get the restaurants we deserve. We’ve become so in love with the scene, the décor and the novelty instead of the substance of a restaurant i.e. the food, the cooking and the service that restaurateurs have just given us want we wanted.
It’s as if the owners have sussed that the food has to be just good enough for the punters they expect to visit. There’s been no sense of generosity or of any care in the preparation or of trying to think long term and build something. It’s all about short termism, it’s all rather grasping and it’s very depressing.
Typical of my experiences this year was a recent meal at 101 Pimlico Road. Situated on the less chavvy side of SW1 it’s more of a little nabe joint than a destination restaurant and was populated on my visit by an older well-heeled crowd. Thankfully David Collins hasn’t been hired to gussy the place up so its sharp, functional décor at least promised food of the same ilk. The ALC menu looked a bit more interesting than the quotidian although in reality any regular restaurant-goer could have a good stab at doing one. It’s the execution that counts.
Those first tentative tastes of a starter dish are all-important in the DH Bumper Book of Eating Out but in the case of my Goat’s Cheese dish it was the visual shock of an unadvertised deep-fried puck of cheese that caught my attention. It was competently done but, you know, I didn’t actually want deep fried anything for a starter.
I’d had a fair wait to get this dish - the kitchen were presumably thrown by somebody not lunching from the fixed price menu as others were - so I ploughed on. The cheesy fritter sat on top of a disc of beetroot that was the consistency of something you might line your shoe with and didn’t taste like it had been pickled (like what it said on the menu). Underneath was a thin, desiccated sliver of Black Pudding. Wow, I thought, this was going to be a long meal.
But total disaster was averted by a decently done Veal Burger. It was a bit dense, but tasted fine, and came with some light and crisp Shoestring fries, although in the canon of fried potato works these are probably the least interesting. There was a properly fried egg on top of the burger and a slice of Foie Gras on top of that. The latter was so thin though that I suspect that the very latest in micro-laser technology had been employed in fashioning the thing. Studding the Veal Burger with little nuggets of the engorged liver would have been a better idea.
A sort of pattern was emerging here: the kitchen seemed like they were up to the job, when they could be arsed. This was obvious from my dessert. Some Peanut Butter Ice Cream was good, as was a scoop of Star Anise that had a surprisingly subtle taste, but a cold, solid lump of poor quality chocolate and some terrible pastry do not a Chocolate Tart make. Not in my universe at least. You could tell it was rubbish because I left most of it after a couple of bites and I usually eat everything. If they could chivvy (not chavvy) the kitchen into being a bit more consistent and actually taste some of the stuff that is sent out it might be possible to have a decent meal here.
All this comes though, at frankly ridiculous prices which can’t even begin to be justified by the restaurant’s location (a short hop away from Sloane Square). They’re already making a pretty mark-up on the very ordinary wines I drank so I have to conclude they’re charging what the local market will bear, which is what I was moaning about at the start of the post.
Finally, it’s also unfortunate that the rather dumb name that the owners have chosen for their gaff contains the number of the room where very bad things happen in the novel 1984. Well, let me tell you, Georgie-boy, things aren’t so hot in 2009.