Monday, February 23, 2009

Tagine, Balham

Sunday lunchtime.  We didn't want to spend much money, we weren't too hungry, we wanted to drink champagne.  
This combination of factors led us to return to Tagine in Balham as we knew their huge portions of houmous, pittas, aubergine and pepper dips and their BYO policy were perfect.

The three of us were the only customers which didn't bother us.  We settled and ordered our food, which arrived promptly, with friendly service.

The problem was that they didn't tell us that shortly a film company would be using the restaurant as a set.  Cameras started being set up, huge hot lights were erected, makeup and costume ladies started doing their thing.  In short, we were right in the way.  Staff all directed their attention to the crew and then half way through our meal someone came over and asked if we'd mind pausing our meal to be extras (we would mind, yes).  Eventually we just paid up and left.  The restaurant should have been shut that day, simple as.

One course: £9 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 5/10

Atmosphere: 2/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 23/40

Tagine, 1-3 Fernlea Road, London, SW12 9RT.  Tel: 020 86757604.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ask, Mayfair

There was a 2 for 1 deal going at Ask and a little strapped for cash, three of us decided to do that and split the bill threeways.  That is the only real reason I would go to this restaurant, as I have always found it to be a fairly middle of the road pizza chain, inferior to Pizza Express and certainly to Strada.

Anyway, we arrived without booking but it was only a Wednesday night and there were plenty of tables.
We waited by the door for about five minutes without any acknowledgment from staff that we were there.  Eventually I weaved through the tables and asked a waitress who was standing by the till, if we could have a table.  She didn't answer but turned to another more senior waiter and he gestured for us to follow him.  We made our way towards the table but it then became apparent that they were still clearing it, and so we had to hover in the middle of the restaurant.  Then, yet another waiter came over to us and very rudely said "Can you wait by the door to be seated please?  You're in everyone's way!".  We began to return that way when the second waiter called us back...  A dreadful start, and no apology.

We ordered soft drinks and pizzas, which arrived in a reasonable amount of time and were reasonable themselves. My Pollo Piccante had a good amount of chicken and some nice lightly roasted red peppers, Penne del Giardino looked good with lots of veg and Spaghetti e Polpette was a triumph of meatballs for my friend, who enjoyed it very much.

The atmosphere in there was buzzy but fairly bland.  The whole experience was quite meh, especially when it took an absolute age to get, and then pay for, the bill.

One course and a soft drink: £12 per head (without offer)

Value: 7/10

Service: 4/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 24/40

Ask, 56-60 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 2RZ.  Tel: 020 72243484.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

All Star Lanes, Bayswater

A company team-building event took twenty of us again to All Star Lanes in Bayswater.  The staff provided tap water on the table before we were seated and offered drinks without hassling or annoying us.

To begin I ordered salt and pepper popcorn squid, which unfortunately they forgot and so I received just as the mains were arriving.  However, it was very good - not greasy and well flavoured, a very generous portion as well.  

My steak for main course was delicious, a lovely piece of meat and cooked exactly as requested.
Everyone seemed happy with what they had, from pot pie to burger.  String fries are really good - hot and salty and crunchy but soft on the inside (but they are extra...).

It's a very cool venue for a group, if a little on the expensive side.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £40 per head

Value: 6/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 29/40

All Star Lanes, Whiteleys, 6 Porchester Gardens, London, W2 4DB.  Tel: 020 73138363.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mr Underhill's, Ludlow

I was so excited to visit Mr Underhill's, a birthday treat for my ma.  We only got in by luck - the first date I tried for (two months away) was fully booked and the second had had a cancellation half an hour before.

It was a Saturday night and the restaurant was full. 
The room wasn't quite as I had imagined.  The exterior is a period building, next to the weir, but the interior is ever so slightly bland, a little like someone's formal dining room.  However, the service was fantastic: we had a youngish waiter who was really friendly and the owner, Mrs Bradley, worked the room, checking everything was ok and advising the next table on wine (incidentally, after asking them a few questions she recommended they go for the house).  

There is only the tasting menu available and they called me the day before to let me know we would be eating venison, and to check if anyone would prefer a different main meat (we were happy with venison).  I decided to just enjoy the food and not make a note of every course and so here are a few snippets of what we had: salmon mousse in a small cone (delicate and flavoursome), butternut veloute with parmesan froth and aged balsamic (great flavour combos), monkfish with cep pasta (beautiful fish and light pasta), the venison which was the best meat dish any of us had ever had - fabulously tender with a rich, deep red wine, elderberries and thyme with soft chive mash, iced plum sponge with star anise ice cream (a gorgeous finish).  You could select a pudding - I chose a Highland parfait with flapjack wafer, Scottish oat praline and Drambuie which was divine.  Deeply hot chocolate tart with white chocolate ice cream, greengage crumble with verbena icecream and lemon tart with orange and marscapone ice cream were all well received too - everything was the perfect portion size too - generous but just enough.  There were handmade sweets and cake with coffee and a few other amuse bouche, which I forget.  All this was accompanied by a couple of lovely bottles of Rioja.

As we left we were given two packets of homemade fudge to have with our morning coffee.  Mr Underhill's feels like a family operation with a professional touch.  Food and service were fabulous and value wise, I have had many many meals for much more, to a much lower standard.  This restaurant deservedly has a Michelin star.

Tasting menu and half a bottle of wine: £60 per head

Value: 8/10

Service: 10/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 9/10

SCORE: 34/40

Mr Underhill's, Dinham Weir, Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8 1EH.  Tel: 01584 874431.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Boulevard Brasserie, Covent Garden

I needed to catch up with a friend and Boulevard Brasserie was central and convenient for both of us.  It is a very buzzy location and was packed, even on a Tuesday night.
We had a cocktail whilst we perused the menu and then to begin we had duck parfait with toasted brioche and fig chutney.  It was really delicious, the sweet flavours of the fig and the brioche contrasting with the rich duck.  For main course we both had steak - cooked to perfection with slim French fries and a bearnaise sauce. 

This is a great place for a pre or post theatre meal, or for catching up.  The service was professional and friendly.  Centrally, you couldn't do much better.

Two courses and a cocktail: £29 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 9/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Food: 8/10

SCORE: 32/40

Boulevard Brasserie, 40 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7BD.  Tel: 020 72402992.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Soho Thai, Soho

Six of us were wandering through Soho looking for somewhere to eat.  A plan to go to Cha Cha Moon had been scuppered by the length of the queue.

Soho Thai caught our eye and we were ushered into the back room where they had a big enough table but lacked the atmosphere of the main dining area.  The service was efficient, if not overly friendly.

To begin, tom yum soup went down very well, prawn toasts were tasty (if a little heavy) and not too greasy with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds.  The menu doesn't offer any surprises, but it delivers the classics with ease: green Thai curry, chicken massaman curry, pad se-iew, pad Thai - all polished off with no problem.  House wine was decent enough.

Two courses and half a bottle of wine: £20 per head

Value: 7/10

Service: 6/10

Atmosphere: 6/10

Food: 7/10

SCORE: 26/40

Soho Thai, 27-28 St. Anne's Court, London, W1F 0BN.  Tel: 020 72872000.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

La Tasca, Soho

I had a hangover.  A dreadful hangover.  The kind that resulted in my being trapped between methods of transport: unable to face getting on the tube and unable to return home on the bus.
When I eventually made it to Oxford Circus to meet two friends all I wanted to do was sit, and eat.

One of them suggested La Tasca as they do an offer - all you can eat tapas for a tenner.  I am not a huge fan of the La Tasca chain - I have always found service, food and sangria to be lacking in pizzazz and authenticity but on this occasion I was willing to give it another go (not the sangria).

The offer has no real catches - tapas, and as much as you want.

We went slightly mad and ordered almost everything.  The bread with olive oil and sherry vinegar was soft and fresh, if a little dull.  Marinated chicken wings were moreish, Spanish sausage in red wine was greasy, deep fried white fish in batter was very good, squid rings were just on the wrong side of chewy but the garlic mayonnaise was good, aubergine topped with cheese and tomato was boring, patatas bravas were fine but to be fair even in Madrid they let me down - the only good ones I have ever had were at the now closed Global in Wandsworth. Finally, the paella rice was good but the chicken was bony and limited.

We ordered again and again after that and were never rushed, the waitress served us in bemused silence as we ate our own body weight in tapas.  The atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon was actually not bad - the gentle hum of couples and groups of friends soaking up the previous night's excess.

All you can eat tapas and a soft drink: £12.50 per head

Value: 9/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Food: 6/10

SCORE: 29/40

La Tasca, 300 Regent Street, London, W1B 3AR.  Tel: 020 76372886.