The latest round of eating out in London

The Antipodes

LANTANA Maybe the best ad I’ve seen for a restaurant lately was the situation at Lantana on Saturday morning. The place was supposed to be open for business at 9am. We arrived at 9.06am and nothing was happening. One of the cooks hadn’t turned up, they had no idea where he was or when he would arrive. Or even if he’d be able to cook when he did get there. Nonetheless by 9.15am the place was chockers with hungry little vegemites who were willing to wait. The staff handled the situation with aplomb, handing out drinks. Chef arrived, our orders were taken in sequence of arrival and thus we, being the first in, dug in first too, at 10am or so. The food was good.

We went back a couple of days later and this reinforced the idea I’ve had for a couple of years now that Lantana has become a bit hit and miss. We don’t think the bacon is nearly as good as it used to be. I ordered an apple and bread pudding which I expected to be warm, but that was merely skin deep, quickly degenerating to cold as I got to the inner regions of it.

KOPAPA We spent rather a lot of time at The Providores and Tapa Room last time we were in town. I hadn’t been to Kopapa for a few years partly because it is entirely lacking in warmth. You can hang around The Tapa Room, but not Kopapa. We both had the eggs and yoghurt, the dish from which there is no escape for Peter Gordon. Mine was dire. Scarcely luke warm, cold overcooked eggs. I ate them and then complained when asked if everything was okay afterwards. I was told I should have complained at the time, but what’s the point of that? Who wants to start off their day having to send their breakfast back, watch one’s companion eat and then eat whilst they watch you? Not to mention, we are talking about a dish that these guys have made many of, every day, for years. It’s a very simple dish that has to be competently executed and this one wasn’t.

Having said that, their tea was good and when asked for extra hot water a proper pot of it was brought. I wish that was always easy to negotiate.

The barns

Grain Store is a huge place across Regent’s Canal behind Kings Cross Station. We got there at 10am on Sunday morning, having picked it for its vegetarian bent. We were informed that we had to wait for all our party to arrive before we would be seated. There was a bar we could sit at. Nonetheless, I wanted to leave straight away. I guess I don’t mind that attitude if a place is filling up, but at 10am it was empty and held maybe a hundred tables. Really? We couldn’t be seated? Is the place doing so badly that it can’t afford to give us a table for 4 if it turns out there are only 2 of us? I don’t like going to places that are so hungry for every dollar. I want some affection for the food, the customer, the situation on the part of the management. Not here. We did stay, our friends arrived as expected. The food was good, though we do not yet have enough data as three of us picked the same dish. The desserts were nice.

Yoghurt and chickpea pancake, avocado, tomato and jalapeño salsa 9.5
(with merguez sausage) 12
Caesar salad with crispy seaweed, fish cake 13
Baked apple, rosemary crumble, crème fraîche and salted caramel sauce 6
Sorbets

The tea was ludicrously strong – a small pot with maybe 3 teaspoons of tea in it. I asked for extra hot water and received a small jug of it which made little impact. Asking again I received a pot of hot water. I realise I’m Australian, but we ate with an English person who also found the tea too strong. An odd situation since it means the restaurant’s tea overhead is much more than it need be.

I enjoyed the meal here, but the place did fill up over the first hour or so and ended up being the sort of place one has to shout in. I don’t want to shout while eating at the best of times, but certainly not over breakfast.

We noticed before heading into the Grain Store, a vast queue of people waiting to get into the place next door. Had we picked the wrong barn at which to eat?

Caravan is another huge barn of a place, but I found it much friendlier than next door. Maybe that’s the antipodean vs the French influence. Packed and noisy, again, not the sort of place I’d want to idle away the time in, but we were on our way to the airport. We just wanted food.

Garlic flatbread, yoghurt 4.5
Kohlrabi, fennel, lemon balm, walnuts, chardonnay vinaigrette 5-
Coconut lime chicken salad 6.5
Yorkshire black pudding, celeriac, apples, verjus reduction 7-
Crispy soft shell crab 9-

We both found the chicken rather disappointing, I expected gutsy tangy explosion of taste, but it was so demure I wondered if something had been left out that should have been there. Nonetheless, we will find ourselves going back next time when we are next back in London.

The chains

After going to Othello in an archaeological dig with no heating, we were looking for somewhere to defrost and quickly. Sarah-Louise described Bill’s as good pub food. We had arrived.

crispy lemon squid garlic and lemon mayo 5.95
crispy duck salad spring onion, apple ribbons, radish, red pepper, coriander and watercress, sprinkled with sesame seeds, soy and lemon dressing 5.85
Bill’s beer-battered cod minted peas, pickled onion, skin-on fries and tartare sauce 11.95
Bill’s ‘peri peri’ marinated half chicken our own blend of peri peri picuin chillies, roasted peppers, orange and lemon zest, allspice and oregano, served with a winter slaw and sweet potato fries 11.95
pan-fried sea bass chunky tomato, avocado and caper salsa with a crispy spring onion and parsley potato rösti 11.95
rhubarb and stem ginger crème brûlée ginger nut biscuits 4.50
warm mini cinnamon doughnuts fresh strawberries and warm chocolate dipping sauce 5.50

Tea came in a large pot, 2 teabags. When asked for more hot water, the waiter promptly brought it in another large pot. We were really impressed with our meal here, a chain restaurant maybe, but everything was of good quality, service was terrific and friendly, the place had a good atmosphere. It was large and crowded, but didn’t require shouting in the way the barns did.

I can’t say the same about the other chain restaurant we lunched at. Royal China Baker Street had, we think, changed its menu since last time we were there some months ago. The food, at any rate, was rather disappointing. In particular we ordered a dish of asparagus, which as far as I could see, contained no heads. Is that normal? Personally it didn’t bother me as I prefer the stems, but I’m out of sorts with the world on that one, so I doubt many people appreciate getting stems only. I wonder to what use the heads are put? Still, it’s efficient, reasonable prices – five of us with no alcohol or dessert ate for a bit under 100 pounds.

I’m not sure whether to call Gallipoli Cafe and Bistro a chain. It’s a Turkish place in Islington that is so popular it has spawned a couple of others nearby. Our visit here was an early pre-theatre dinner after a day of eating, so we don’t have a large experience to report. I had a lamb shishkebab the charcoal flavour of which made me very happy. The salad which accompanied it was simple and fresh, as was the rice. I will definitely be back to try this place again.

The set lunch/dinner

The Blue Door Bistro is the restaurant of The Montague on the Gardens. We were too early to check in and sat down to their set menu in the meantime. I’d been in England for two hours, so I was chilled to the bone and started with tea which was nicely presented. It was the only place I went to in London which served it properly, in that extra hot water came as part of the order rather than having to ask for it. Having been given menus, we had to ask for the set lunch menu. I wish restaurants didn’t do this, is it that customers are supposed to feel too intimidated to ask and therefore orders from the à la carte? It should simply come with the rest of the menu so that the diner is properly informed. I don’t mean to sound too harsh as this restaurant has high standards of service, so surely an oversight in this case.

At 17 pounds for two courses, it was reasonable value, but we both thought, for two pounds extra, that the pre-theatre set menu we had at the Almeida restaurant easily trumped it. Excellent value, including splendid bread, let down by our choice of dessert. We both ordered the poached pear. Should a poached pear need a heavy hand with a knife to saw through it? Not that we had one, we were given a fork and spoon, but a knife would have been handy. I was especially disappointed as it is such an easy dessert to get right. But still, we were very happy with our meal here and like all the new places we tried this trip, we’d be happy to give it another go.

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