Every two months, me and two foodie dads escape the shackles of our families and venture out into the gastro-world.
We each take it in turns to choose the restaurant and then rate it within the usual criteria of venue, atmosphere, starter, main, dessert, service and value-for-money to arrive at an average score out of 10.
There are only three set rules:
1) The total bill must come in at under £100 per head, including drinks;
2) We aim to choose different dishes from each other, so that we can all maximise the experience.
3) It must be located in an accessible-enough place so that we can all fall onto our respective Tubes/trains before, or around about, the Witching Hour.
Our first two outings were to Bistro du Vin in Soho (chosen by Scott) and the Hawksmoor Steak House in Covent Garden (chosen by me). Unfortunately, we didn’t have the rating system in place for those, but we did for last night’s sojourn, so it was over to Dan.
In many ways, Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen could be regarded as a no-risk option. With the great chef’s name above the door (or equivalent), we were surely in for a win-win culinary delight.
Located a five-minute walk of Bank Station in the soulless heart of the City, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Oppulence, as at Claridge’s? Cosiness, as at the York and Albany?
It was neither. The restaurant is set over two floors in a converted office block and the sheer size of its footprint has to be seen to be believed, covering a space about the size of a football pitch or aircraft hangar.
But far from feeling cold and anonymous, the buzz was electric because of the way the space is compartmentalised into different seating sections, all of which had tables that were just the right distance apart. A huge tick.
But atmosphere is only part of the picture: we were there for the food.
I won’t go into every menu option, but you can check it out here. Essentially, though, it’s British-sourced classics with a twist.
The starters were a mixed bag. I pulled out a trump card by choosing ham hock croquettes, with a gribiche sauce/dip (mayo and chopped egg, I think). The breadcrumb coating was crisp, yielding to a super-soft, salty, flaking ham interior. It was superb. Dan went for baked scallops with salsify, treacle bacon and bittercress, which, although tasty, was incredibly meagre in size, with one of the three scallops looking like the runt of the shellfish litter. Not impressed. Scott went for a pressed Goosnargh chicken and terrine. Tasty, yes, but way too cold to be spreadable on the brioche bun it came with.
The main courses, though, made up for this inadequacy. I had braised lamb neck, dressed with a lemon zest and parsley gremolata and served with polenta chips. It was the best lamb I have ever tasted. Unctuous, falling apart and soft enough to eat with a spoon, with the dressing taking it to another level. Must try this at home. Absolutely glorious.
Dan went for poussin with chimichurra dressing and burnt lemon, which was a nice touch. However, I don’t trust poussin – it’s very difficult to cook without drying out, and this one was dry.
Scott’s Dingley Dell pork belly, too, was beautifully cooked: tender and juicy; not fatty; very meaty, with a thin crackling that gave a satisfying snap and a delicately spiced apple sauce.
But then Mustard-Gate happened. Scott asked for some mustard for his pork and was brought French.
When he asked the French waiter for a pot of English, he was met with the reply: ‘I’m afraid we’ve run out.’
Scott was incredulous and refused to accept the rejection.
‘But this is Gordon Ramsay – one of the great British cooks of all time. OF COURSE he’s going to have English mustard (even though he’s Scottish) in his restaurant,’ he insisted.
A few moments later, a tiny jar of Colman’s appeared. Not ideal, but just enough to prevent my not-unreasonable-perfectionist pal leaping out of his pram.
In such a bustling restaurant, packed with after-workers, probably on business expenses, I thought the service cut the mustard! Our waiter was a cheeky charmer and so got off the hook when we complained our wine wasn’t cold enough (a delicious South African Chenin Blanc for around £22).
But then, disaster struck. Not comparable with a Third World War or an earthquake, I grant you, but galling, nonetheless.
None of us are ‘sweet dessert’ types, and so ordered two boards of British cheeses. At £9 a pop.
What was presented to us was the most pathetic assembly of God’s dairy I have ever set eyes on. Thin slivers of cheeses that were both uninspiring and too cold. Served with too-sweet oatmeal biscuits. Taste Factor Zero.
To be fair, when we complained, our waiter brought us more cheese, but the extra quantity in no way made up for the lack of quality. It’s a shame, because Mustard-Gate aside, the entire experience was at the top of the notches.
So what are the scores on the doors?
I’m quite amazed by the fact that we got exactly the same average score, but then, insignificant things do amaze me.
TOTAL COMBINED AVERAGE = 7.6
TOTAL BILL (including two bottles of Chenin Blanc and one bottle of Temperanillo) = £275, incl. service