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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I'm not really down on chain restaurants - chain restaurants are down on me. With a few exceptions, once a place is chainified then all the characteristics that made the original so, well, original and endearing tend to go out the window. In their place come dull, safe menus. Portion control and bottom lines are royalty in this brave new world and the bean counters are the kingmakers. All so familiar, all so depressing.

North of the river – but probably coming soon to an area near you -
the major playas are the Martin brothers. Each new gastro opened by the pair seems to bring a decremental change in quality. I couldn’t even bring myself to eat in their last place The Cadogan Arms whose menu and atmosphere plumbed new depths of conformity and mediocrity.

South of the river, Renaissance Pubs (weren’t they a team in The Apprentice?) hold sway. The Tommyfield was originally The White Hart but this naughty sibling obviously wasn’t pulling its weight and so was rebranded, which sounds a lot more sinister that it probably is.

I’m guessing here, but I think the residents of Kennington are not spoiled for choice when it comes to gastropubs (there is of course the rather splendid Canton Arms just down the road but that’s not a gastro, no, definitely not a gastro) so I wasn’t surprised that The Tommyfield was pretty full and buzzing by the time I left.

There are, indeed, a lot of things to be buzzy about here. A pint of Sambrook Brewery’s Wandle was in very decent nick and I didn’t need to ask for it to be topped up. The room, though a bit “corporate”, wouldn’t be the worse place in the world to spend an hour or two. Unfortunately I couldn’t get too Sheffield United about the food. Not very bad, just so, so predictable.

It’s not exactly a challenging menu but execution of the food was a little uneven. A Soft Shell Crab fritter was in fact a whole crab, deep fried. Maybe fritter looked better on the blackboard. Fritter? Mmmm….nice. I think this type of crab is in season at the moment so I’m assuming it was fresh.

It wouldn’t have mattered if it was frozen though as the taste was mainly that of batter and oil, the latter obviously used for the Fish ‘n Chips. On the side, a pointless salad garnish and an industrial-tasting tartar sauce. The lemon did come in a little muslin bag though, which would have impressed HS no end.

I liked the fact that in a nod to the local demographic they had a Caribbean Patty on. I was regretting my decision though, as I watched a few sorry-looking, dried-up specimens going to neighbouring tables.
Happily mine was good and moist.

It didn’t look much like a conventional patty to me – they’re usually yellow owing to the turmeric used – and with the flaky pastry more akin to a pasty, but given the West Country-Bristol-Jamaica link I am prepared to believe this was a sort of retro-patty. The filling wasn’t bad, a bit white bread though and in serious need of spicing up. The requested hot sauce never turned up.

The price came with a bit of a cheeky sarf London wink too. A tenner is a bit steep for a pasty, sorry, patty, even with a blob of gloopy coleslaw (the chips were from the crab dish).

But that’s the nature of these operations where the markup percentage on glasses of average wine is measured in the hundreds and however much you try and convince yourself otherwise nothing is done out of love for the food or for the customer – more for the dosh. I’d have a pint of beer and then saunter down the road for your tea.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to work in one of the Martin Bros north-central ventures and have to say they're not as bad as many of the other chains I've worked for (where every last cherry tomato and drizzle of olive oil is accounted in order to hit that magical 78.5% GP or whatever)

I was fairly impressed with the amount of direct input they still had with most of their ventures, having said that, like most expaning chains, I'm sure its only a matter of time before the bean counters move in to regulate, homogenize and suck the life out...

Thursday, May 27, 2010 11:27:00 am  
Anonymous Lex said...

Nooooo they replaced the white hart?! They served good food! :(

Friday, May 28, 2010 11:19:00 am  

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