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

Friday, February 12, 2010


My apologies for some of the pictures in today’s blog post. They really aren’t terribly good, but then that seems particularly appropriate because our meal at Terroirs, one of London’s current restaurant hotspots, really wasn’t terribly good either.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

It is HP’s birthday next week and, as I shall be out of town on the day itself we scheduled a celebratory supper last night at Terroirs. We had visited the restaurant once before, sitting at the bar for a few snacks before a meal at Goodman, and were not overly impressed by the offer of warm sherry and oily duck scratchings. Since then, the restaurant has opened a large cellar restaurant space and garnered rave reviews from just about everyone. I still had my doubts, but it was HP’s birthday and his choice. With age, apparently does not always come wisdom.

The new (ish) space is lovely, lively and buzzing and our table, over looking the bar gave us the perfect chance to watch the comings and goings of the staff as we drank a glass of Vouvray and munched on a bowl of scratchings and tapenade. The scratchings had not improved since our last visit. Indeed, they tasted like they could have been made on our last visit and left a claggy taste in the mouth. The tapenade was better and came served with some excellent, thin crostini.

When you eat out as much as we do, your first instincts about a restaurant usually turn out to be the correct ones and my first tastes of our three shared starters confirmed what we suspected about Terroirs on our previous brief visit. The place may be jumping and the menu may read well, but the execution is sloppy and the final results depressing.

A dish of clams with ham and chilli came with enough added salt to make my blood pressure medication worthless. A salad of smoked duck breast with beetroot and hazelnuts should have made the most of terrific ingredients but swamped them with so much dressing as to make any flavours impossible to detect. Even a plate of the best anchovies on earth from Cantabria in Spain, served with toast and shallots, proved to be one salty dish too far and had us fighting over the water bottle.

So much has been said about Terroirs addition of the Provencal classic, chicken roasted with forty cloves of garlic, to its menu that we decided it would be worth the forty-five minute wait to experience it prepared in the style of the late, great Keith Floyd. There is something decadent about sharing a whole roast chicken between two people in a restaurant and I still have regular daydreams about the blackleg chicken with foie gras and fried bread at Petite Maison.

There was a loud, strange whirring noise when Terroirs’ example was brought to the table. It was the sound of the late, great Keith Floyd spinning in his grave at what they had done to the lovely dish he popularised in the early 1980’s. At its best, chicken cooked in this way should offer up moist flesh, a skin crisped to golden, simple cooking juices and soft garlic cloves from which the pulp can be squeezed on to bread or directly into your mouth. Instead, while the plate looked impressive (there’s a theme here) all it offered up was grease and lots of it. The skin was flaccid and unpleasant and while the chicken was juicy, none of the subtle flavour from the slow cooked garlic seemed to have permeated the meat during the cooking process. The gravy too lacked depth, but particular ire has to be reserved for the roast potatoes, attractive looking golden hunks of starch, which promised much but tasted actively nasty in the way that only roast potatoes that have been pre-cooked and reheated can. Their casing was tough and the insides had a slightly stale taste that had us pushing the bowl to the side.

For all the plaudits its menu is receiving, the truth is Terroirs is a wine bar, set up by wine people, serving not great food and it is only to sample its extensive and interesting wine list that we would ever choose to return. HP was keen to try their speciality of natural wines and for £27.50 we chose a 2009 Cuvée Octobre, bottled immediately the Syrah grapes come from the vines and served chilled. It is interesting to say the least, but not in a good way, so after a couple of gulps and a shudder, I left it to HP to polish off while I ordered a small pot of a much more agreeable Marcillac.

The bad taste left in the mouth by the chicken meant we skipped dessert and were presented with a bill for a whopping £126 including a charge for service which was friendly enough when you could catch the servers eye as they scurried around the packed dining room. A lot to pay for a meal which only served to confirm what we had suspected from our previous visit.

As I said before, your first instincts about a place usually turn out to be the correct ones and, as if to prove it, we raised our spirits and a last glass to HP’s birthday in the splendid bar of Rules. We had visited the bar within a couple of days of its opening and our first instincts told us that Brian Silva would make this one of the “must visit” cocktail bars in London.

We were right about that, I am pleased t say. I am a lot less pleased to say we were also absolutely right about Terroirs.

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Blogger nickloman said...

Hmm, that's a shame. We previously had a lovely tapas style meal here for 6 with some excellent wine. I can see from the photos that the food doesn't look up to scratch with what we were served. Our visit also brought dreadful service, we were systematically ignored with studied excellence, but we just put that down to the rather stroppy waitress we'd been assigned rather than a problem with the entire place.

Friday, February 12, 2010 11:52:00 am  
Anonymous The Grubworm said...

I'm glad i'm not the only one to be distinctly underwhelmed by Terroirs. I also found the food to be lacklustre and over-priced. It compared poorly to places like Salt Yard.

We also had bad service when we went, we were left for a very long time after getting our food and couldn't get anyone's attention.

And when we did order the waiter told (not suggested) what we should and shouldn't have and didn't give us what we wanted.

Friday, February 12, 2010 11:53:00 am  
Blogger Chris said...

Yay Rules!

Rules cures all.

Friday, February 12, 2010 11:54:00 am  
Blogger Lizzie said...

What a shame you had such a bad meal, especially as it was celebratory. Odd, I really loved it there, especially the anchovy dish and I remember raving about how it wasn't salty at all.

Friday, February 12, 2010 12:03:00 pm  
Blogger Greedy Diva said...

I'm a little relieved to read I am not the only one who was underwhelmed by Terroirs. I thought it was just my bad luck given all its rave reviews, and admittedly I haven't been back for a long time. Funny you mentioned La Petite Maison's blackleg chicken - I just visited this week, adored the place, and was keen to return to try the chick - your comment has inspired me further!

Friday, February 12, 2010 12:16:00 pm  
Blogger Douglas Blyde said...

Mm, The stuff they didn't make, ie. cheese, charcuterie was fine. But I certainly wasn't overly impressed with the cooking there.

Friday, February 12, 2010 4:20:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep.A shithole, really.

Friday, February 12, 2010 10:19:00 pm  
Blogger The knife said...

Happy birthday in advance to The Great Salami.

A bad meal on a special occasion makes it really worse. I hope you guys do another celebratory dinner to make up. Just go to a place you really like this time.

Great to see the scathing review though. Often celeb :) posts just praise places

Saturday, February 13, 2010 9:02:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally disagree with the majority of the comments above. I happen to work very close to Terroirs and go there a couple of times a week either by myself or with clients. The joint is always jumping and people seem to be having a great time. I have eaten upstairs and downstairs, and, bar the odd underp-performing dish, have found this place to be highly consistent. The wine list is simply sensational and the service (in my experience) has been invariably sweet and smiley. Having eaten the chicken (twice) and the Cantabrian anchovies (on innumerable occasions) I thought they were damn good dishes as did the people I was with. Virtually every time I go there I see tables with top chefs (Ramsay, Koffmann, Loubet, Blumenthal, Hopkinson, Hartnett to name but a few), food writers and wine journalists. Either they are all experiencing collective mass hypnosis and are only pretending to enjoy the food or you have had the bad fortune to go to Terroirs on an off-night. As you can tell I am a huge fan; don't let these reviews put you off!

Saturday, February 13, 2010 10:42:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

I look forward to reading their write-ups. I wonder if they pay for their meals there...

Sunday, February 14, 2010 12:37:00 am  
Anonymous Stuart said...

That’s a cynical observation. I agree with anon above. Terroirs rocks. Just did a google search and found first class reviews from The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, The Indie and The Indie on Sunday (including Tracey MacLeod’s restaurant of the year), The Telegraph, Time Out (twice), The Evening Standard (twice), the FT as well as articles by Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Victoria Moore and Jamie Goode. Terroirs, according to Harden’s web-site just won three major awards at the Harper’s Wine & Spirit Drinking Out Excellence Awards including Best Overall Establishment. Either there is a conspiracy and the world has gone mad or... I think the point here is that you had a bad meal (it happens), but most of the people, including me and the hundreds of people who keep returning to Terroirs (it is packed Monday to Saturday lunch and dinner), have had positive experiences and have adopted it as their central London local.

Sunday, February 14, 2010 6:24:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

Cynical but true ?

An impressive number of +ve reviews to be sure but I'd be looking for quality not quantity. Of those listed I'd only trust Jay's judgement.

I think we can safely ignore wine writer's views on food just as you could reasonably ignore mine on wine.


Sunday, February 14, 2010 6:48:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also trust Fay Maschler and Terry Durack who gave Terroirs great reviews! I see it also received a Bib Gourmand. But I suspect all this would be irrelevant were it not racking up tons of repeat business. Like the other people who have leapt to the defence of Terroirs above I can only say that I have had great experiences of this establishment. The food almost always delivers and the wine list is incredible.

I recently had a more miss-than-hit meal at Bocca di Lupo, a very average experience at Fino and downright poor food at Moro, but I can still see enough in these places to appreciate why they are popular.

Monday, February 15, 2010 3:50:00 pm  
Blogger the moffer said...

well i love terroirs too but i have to say the service is ropey as hell...

Monday, February 15, 2010 4:04:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

It's been interesting to see the responses to this post.

While the pro's have been more active in their support on here, those who have been underwhelmed by the food and the service have also expressed their opinions to me in person and/or e-mail with just a handful coming on here.

Like HP, I dismiss many of the critics out of hand and while I don't necessarily agree that wine people don't know about food, it is obvious that their focus will be more on the excellent wine list than the menu. I also wonder how many of them know the owners, whcih could compromise their experience. Just a thought

I am actually tempted to give it another go, but £100 + is a lot to pay for another potentially depressing experience.


Monday, February 15, 2010 4:18:00 pm  
Blogger Camilla said...

I had my worst meal of 2009 at Terroirs. Award-winningly bad service, forgettable food and a 30 minute wait to be told they'd sold out of the wine I had chosen. It was a special occasion too, so I will never forgive them.

Monday, February 15, 2010 4:44:00 pm  
Anonymous Paulie said...

That first anon comment sounds like a PR job tbh.

Monday, February 15, 2010 7:44:00 pm  
Blogger The knife said...

Sitting in Mumbai as I are, i have no idea about the restaurant in discussion.

But I disagree with the view that HP cannot pan a place based on one bad expereince. Restauranteurs charge us for every meal right? In which case one has every right to report on one's experience... good or bad?

I would anyday believe a blogger than a newspaper/ mag reviewer. So there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:45:00 am  
Blogger The London Foodie said...

What a shame you did not have a good meal there - I am also wary of "trendy" restaurants but I thoroughly enjoyed every meal I have had there, and there have been quite a few. It is interesting how people completely different experiences in the same restaurant.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:56:00 am  
Anonymous Dave said...

Went to Terroirs (downstairs) last night with my wife and three friends. We had four small plates and ordered the chicken. It was beautifully cooked, moist and tender with nuggety chestnuts, shitake mushrooms and watercress. The waiter advised that there was probably enough for four people and he was right! This meant that our bill for food (and we really were full) was £15 a head which, in the West End, constitutes pretty amazing value for money.

Service was very pleasant and efficient. I have been a few times previously and always been served promptly. My friends had never been before and vowed to return soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 10:09:00 am  
Anonymous Mr Teaspoon said...

Paulie, I think you probably mean the second anon comment. The first would not be the best PR.

It has been a while since I last visited but I remember being impressed by the bone marrow on toast and a very interesting (in a good way, for me) bottle of chilled red. If I go back, it would be for the setting and the wine selection.

Flaccid chicken skin is certainly a turn-off.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 10:53:00 am  
Anonymous tonimoroni said...

I'm a bit wary of the counter-comment. And citing Fay Maschler on anything food-related seems to me to be the equivalent of quoting Wikipedia in an internet argument: an automatic, epic fail in other words. Such is the discrepancy between her opinions and my own experience that I regard her as completely unreliable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 11:35:00 am  
Blogger The knife said...

Hi Simon, linked this post on a post of mine on an equally terrible breakfast

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 8:05:00 am  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Thanks for that Mr Knife.

It does seem to have split people down the middle this post on Terroir, doesn't it?


Wednesday, February 17, 2010 8:45:00 am  
Blogger AED said...

interesting to read the comments! I took some wine clients along last year and I have to confess that whereas the wine overdelivered the food definitely underdelivered - haven't been back since for precisely that reason.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 3:46:00 pm  
Anonymous Paulie said...

@Mr Teaspoon... yes :D

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 4:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before I am accused of favouritism I should say that I'm a (rival)restaurateur in central London and I often drop into Terroirs for a bite just after service. I've also been there half a dozen times in the evening for more extended meals. The food is simple and well-executed (occasionally, the seasoning is overdone), the wine list fabulous and the atmosphere is great. I don't recognise some of the descriptions above, though, being in the business, I appreciate that you are only perceived to be as good as the worst meal you have delivered to a customer. I like any good place to succeed, critically acclaimed or otherwise, and I'm pleased that Terroirs is as busy as it is.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 6:04:00 pm  
Blogger The knife said...

Well S seems like the food blogging world is a lot more active in the UK.

Yes, this one seems split in the middle and gets 'curiouser and curiouser'

Thursday, February 18, 2010 7:14:00 am  
Anonymous Steve S said...

I think the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Looking at London there are lots of extremely positive reviews and a handful of poor ones for Terroirs. Sometimes you wonder whether people who are talking about the same restaurant! I am another who has had only had good experiences there. It is not just Terroirs - look at any web-site or blogging site and you will see a vast range of opinions reflected. So, it's good that people who like a place leap to its defence and that people who dislike it are free to vent their opinions. I believe, however, if something has gone wrong or if you've had a bad time or a dish is inedible, you should complain at the time (wherever possible). If the restaurant is worth its salt it will tackle the fault.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 12:59:00 pm  
Anonymous Krista said...

You know I'm not generally strong-opinioned about anything. But yeah, Terroirs...not my favorite. Service sucked big time on both my visits and while the food was fine the first time, my most recent visit in January was pretty darn awful. Sadly, my friends loved it. To which I could only think, "I must eat out too much."

Sunday, February 21, 2010 10:32:00 pm  
Anonymous Emily said...

I don't normally write in, but having read some of the negative comments, thought I would relate my experience. I have been to Terroirs three times now and absolutely loved it on each occasion. Food has been very good (I concur with the comment on the oily clams though), service has been swift and friendly and the wine list is a treat. The atmosphere is special; it looks like everyone is having a good time. I will be going back.

Sunday, February 21, 2010 11:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bit surprised at the assertions made that the many famous chef's eating there are on freebies?

especially as you know very well that is quite common in london restaurants, the quid pro quo. impossible to comment on individual circumstances, other than to say its a mean, and meaningless cheap shop irrespective.

I've been to terroirs probably 8 times, and I'm far from convinced about natural wines, but the quality of the produce is impeccable in the dishes.

the absence of any focus or mention of this simple point casts doubt upon the quality of the opinions expressed here. yes, you can be widely travelled, but that makes you experienced not knowledgable - necessarily.

an opinion is only as good as the quality of its analysis and conclusions, and the cheap one liners used to defend this piece speaks volumes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010 3:32:00 pm  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

"you can be widely travelled, but that makes you experienced not knowledgable - necessarily. "

What was it you were saying about cheap shots?

As for the produce, all I can say is what a shameful thing to do to good ingredients.

Bye now


Sunday, September 12, 2010 4:56:00 pm  

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