Simpsons in the Strand – Savoy Hotel London

More Twee Sir? 

First impressions: On entering I was looked up and down. This was done conspicuously by the girl who seated us, who was probably checking I complied with their dress code (jacket and tie are not required but it “is the preferred attire”); entering the dining room felt like entering an old people’s home, although we did have an early dinner reservation for 6.30pm.

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Beef carving trolley

Originally known as The Grand Cigar Divan this venue opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house. The divans (or booths) are the original seats where the chess players sat. Then in 1848, tableside roast meats were introduced and the carvery trolley remains a tradition today. So, if you’re a fan of traditional carveries, this may be the restaurant for you.

While it’s a beautiful old room, it feels in need of some love and attention. Looking around at the clientele, I suspect there are those who’ve been coming for years (many of the foodie review websites indicate as much with the likes of “I’ve been coming here every week for over fifty years…” not that that’s a bad thing, but London is packed with a wide variety of restaurants, and trying them out can bring endless excitement) and wealthy tourists – possibly fans of Downton Abbey wanting to see where some of Downton’s scenes were set.

 

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Chess player booths

S and I chose from the set menu (“fixed price bill of fare“) – two courses @ £26.50 with an £8.75 supplement if choosing the beef carvery, which I did, so £35.25.

For starters, S had balsamic glazed beetroot with baked goats cheese and roast walnuts (normally £14.00) and I had fish cake with wilted spinach, poached egg, chive butter sauce (normally £16.00).

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Starter: Balsamic glazed beetroot with baked goats cheese and roast walnuts 

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Starter: Fish cake with wilted spinach, poached egg, chive butter sauce 

While the salad was nice enough, the fish cake with a perfectly poached runny egg and chive butter sauce was gorgeous.

For main course, S ordered barley and mushroom with roast artichoke and cauliflower (normally £18.50 a la carte) which tasted as appealing as it looks (not very – the ingredients didn’t really go together).

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Main course: Barley and mushroom with roast artichoke and cauliflower

Carvery meats are marketed as being the speciality here (you can even enquire about master carver classes @ £185.00 a class) so I opted for the house speciality. The roast rib of Scottish beef (aged 28 days) was wheeled  over to the table and two slices were carved in front of me – a pleasant experience with a personal touch. I opted for pink cuts which were really tasty (if a little gristly) served with roast potatoes, Savoy cabbage, Yorkshire pudding (good but not amazing) and horseradish. It was a large portion, and was nice without being at all exciting.

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Carvery trolley wheeled to the table

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Main course: roast rib of Scottish beef with roast potatoes, cabbage + Yorkshire pudding with a glass of Vega Rioja @ £8.50 a glass

Stepping into this restaurant feels like stepping into a bygone era. And the live entertainment contributed to that.

 

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Live pianist in The Grand Cigar Divan

 

I was glad I visited the loos after our meal as the toilets were disgusting. They were old and shabby and falling apart (literally – broken  taps and one of the loos was blocked with water overflowing). They clearly hadn’t been checked for many hours as there were no clean hand towels left to dry hands on (they’d all been used and were in the laundry bin).

The verdict: In general, the atmosphere was twee and stuffy although some of the servers were a bit more relaxed and helpful than others. While I chose the speciality of beef carved off the trolley with Yorkshire puddings (which was nice enough) there was nothing special or exciting about it. I’m glad I’ve been to this historic venue but I won’t go again and I wouldn’t recommend it. Not when there are other historic dining venues that also marry in a bit of excitement, charm or wonder into the dining experience like Kettners or Plum + Spilt Milk in the Great Northern Hotel.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
– Type: British
– Address: 100 Strand, London
– Postcode: WC2R 0EW
– Nearest station: Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Embankment
– Website + menus: Simpsons in the Strand website
– Photos on flickr: Simpsons in the Strand photos
– Location: Simpsons in the Strand map

Simpson's in the Strand - Savoy Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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John’s of Bleecker Street – New York Pizza

Prepare to queue for John’s coal-fired brick oven thin-crust pizza

There’s always a line for John’s pizza. It’s not exactly cheap and the original Bleecker Street restaurant is quite grubby, in need of a good interior refresh. So why is it so popular – what’s the attraction?
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Tired old mural

 

Having visited other branches, we went to the original Bleecker Street location last night to find out. We queued – as expected – and got shouted at periodically by staff, telling customers to keep away from the door until we were eventually shown to a narrow formica-topped table for two. Shabby wooden panels on the walls were engraved with years and years worth of names and comments, while a dirty old mural of a lake and mountain scene begged to be cleaned. This wasn’t stylishly retro, it just felt unclean and in need of re-decorating.
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Battered wooden panels

 

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Large pepperoni and mushroom pizza @ $32.00

 

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Thin pizza and salad
K ordered a Goose Island beer @ $7.00 and I ordered a glass of white wine @ $6.00. It didn’t seem to come as a surprise when I told the waiter it tasted of vinegar and was undrinkable – he readily swapped it for a glass of house red (a pinot), which wasn’t great but slightly more drinkable. The pizza itself – @ $32.00 – was a good thin base pizza, while the salad – @ $8.25 – was covered in a sharp, vinegary dressing.

 

The verdict: To revert to my original question what’s the attraction with John’s pizza? I am unsure. Perhaps the reputation and brand is so well established and firmly tied into all the tourist guides that the punters just keep flocking? But to me, it’s over-rated. After all, good thin pizza isn’t hard to find anymore. It just isn’t, when the hay days of stodgy deep pan pizza from big chains are long gone.

But if I’m missing something please do let me know.

 

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
~ Type: Pizza
~ Address: 278 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, New York
~ Zipcode: NY10014
~ Website + menus: John’s of Bleecker Street website
~ Photos on flickr: images of John’s of Bleecker Street
~ Location: John’s of Bleecker Street map
John's of Bleecker Street Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Levante Pide – Lewisham

We decided to end the working week relaxing over a meal out on Friday evening. We wanted somewhere nice. And somewhere in Lewisham, South East London.

A web search (Google, Open Table, Trip Advisor, etc) showed that Levante Pide, a Turkish restaurant on Lewisham High Street, had better reviews and ranking over other central Lewisham restaurants. And so I booked a table via the Open Table site.

Roll on 8pm Friday night: on arrival the restaurant was packed and we were told they didn’t have our booking – perhaps we’d booked the restaurant with a similar name (Levante) at Hither Green? I showed the booking on my phone and we were shown to a table for two. Mix-up cleared.


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Inside Levante Pide – large and bright, stone clad walls

 

We weren’t in any hurry – we were intent on having a relaxing, leisurely meal. Even so, service was incredibly slow (to the extent I had to go find our waiter at one point).

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Menu

We ordered a bottle of chianti red wine, reasonably priced at £19.00 and these mixed meze starters: grilled haloumi cheese @ £4.50, sucuk izgara spicy Turkish sausage (excellent) @ £4.50, sigara boregi deep-fried filo dough stuffed with creamy Turkish white cheese and parsley @ £3.90 and calamari fried squid in a light crispy batter @ £4.50. They were all good and served with fresh salad but the sausage stood out as being the speciality dish here.

 

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Meze starters – grilled haloumi, sucuk spicy sausage, sigara boregi + calamari
 
For main course, K ordered Iskender kebab – lamb doner served with butter-coated bread with yoghurt and special Anatolian sauce, topped with sizzling butter @ £12.00 (simply amazing – really tender lamb pieces and gorgeous spicy sauce and flavours) and I had an Adana kebab – minced meat marinated with herb and grilled @£10.00. This was tainted with an unpleasant gassy flavour (from the way it had been grilled?) and I left it.

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Kebab main courses – Iskender and Adona

While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of puddings, I do love baklava (honey and nuts – my kind of ingredients) so in the interest of benchmarking (ahem) we ordered a portion to share (this was tasty enough but @ £3.50 for two pieces it seemed either over-priced or a small portion) along with an Irish coffee made with Baileys @ £3.90 each.

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Baklava + Irish coffee with Baileys

The verdict: a bit hit and miss (some food was great, some food – like the complimentary bread and the Adana kebab – had an unpleasant gassy taste) and service was poor. There are plenty of other good Turkish restaurants in the area, like Turquaz (with friendly staff and entertaining belly dancing) that have an edge over Levante Pide.

And – if your dining criteria is a good restaurant in the Lewisham area – head over to Catford, where there are several great restaurants and a variety of international cuisines.

 

Restaurant info:

~ Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
~ Type: Turkish
~ Address: 187 Lewisham High Street, Lewisham, London
~ Postcode: SE13 6AA
~ Nearest station: Lewisham
~ Website + menus: Levante Pide website
~ Photos: Levante Pide food photos
~ Location: Levante Pide map

Levante Pide on Urbanspoon

Happy Days – oily chips

I wanted fish and chips last Friday lunchtime but didn’t have time to walk over to award-winning Poppies at Spitalfields. What a dilemma hey.

An alternative option was to try Happy Days instead (reputedly where the only clue in the Jack the Ripper murders was found). Goulston Street Food Court was busy as ever although there wasn’t a queue at Happy Days, despite being #FishFryday lunchtime.


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Happy Days fish and chips shop – Goulston Street Food Court


Service was swift and polite. I ordered regular cod and chips and didn’t have to wait. They were already prepared and served up immediately. Being a sunny day, I sat outside and watched the world go by in the food market.


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Goulston Street Food Court – on a sunny day


The cod itself was fine although the batter was a little greasy so I left some. Not a biggie; I would eat the fish again from here.

But the chips were incredibly oily (without being soggy). They were crunchy yet absolutely saturated with oil (loads of oil oozed out when I pressed on the chips – they hadn’t been drained at all). Oil was the overpowering taste and left an unpleasant coating of lardy grease in my mouth, making them inedible. They got left.


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Cod and oily chips


Verdict: A portion of fish and chips from Happy Days just isn’t in the same league as those from Poppies of Spitalfields (less than five minutes away). It’s worth the walk.

 

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
~ Type: British, fish and chips
~ Address: 44-46 Goulston Street, London
~ Postcode: E1 7TP
~ Nearest station: Aldgate, Aldgate East
~ Photos on flickr: images of Happy Days food
~ Location: Happy Days map


RELATED LINKS
More East London dining:
~ Asta at Sozai – Japanese
~ Drift Bar – International
~ Fora – Mediterranean restaurant, City branch
~ Japanese Canteen – around the City
~ Momo’wich – Thai + Malaysian
~ Needoo Grill – BYOB Indian grilled meats
~ Poppies – fab fish + chips, East End


Happy Days on Urbanspoon

The Drift in Heron Tower

We were a group of twenty at The Drift this Friday lunchtime. On entering this ground and first floor restaurant in the Heron Tower the first thing you notice is the sheer spaciousness: high ceilings, open kitchen, and glass front allowing in lots of light. It’s a pleasing space to walk into.


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Open plan kitchen


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Glass fronted Heron Tower – view towards Liverpool Street Station


Given it’s a Friday lunchtime in the City, The Drift isn’t especially busy yet service is slow.

And as it’s #FishFryday I order beer-battered haddock with chips and tartar sauce @ £9.95 (the fish is slightly soggy while the chips are dry – satisfactory but nothing special).


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Haddock + chips – served with tartar sauce


Others in our party order:
~ chicken club sandwich – chargrilled chicken, mayo, tomato,
bacon + salad leaves with chilli jam @ £7.50 (there’s disappointment that the chilli jam can’t be tasted in the sandwich, and a wonder if it actually made an appearance)
~ crab and crayfish linguine with a hint of chilli @ £9.95 (this was described as being nice enough but nothing outstanding)
~ double cheeseburger with guacamole, pineapple, beetroot,
mustard mayo + pickled gherkin @ £13.95 (a double burger portion – very meaty, but no cheese in sight)


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Double cheeseburger – double burger + pineapple ring, no cheese in sight


We asked for the bill several times and were kept waiting (for an extra half an hour – not ideal for a lunch break outing) even though many tables had been vacated by now and the restaurant was thinning out.

All in all, a pleasing light and open restaurant space, handy for Liverpool Street Station, with fairly average food.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
~ Type: British, international
~ Address: Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London
~ Postcode: EC2N 4AY
~ Nearest station: Liverpool Street Station
~ Website: The Drift website
~ Menus: The Drift menus
~ Photos on flickr: images of The Drift food + restaurant
~ Location: The Drift in Heron Tower map


RELATED LINKS

More City/East End dining:
~ Asta at Sozai – Japanese ramen, katsu, don etc
~ Fora – Mediterranean restaurant, City branch
~ Japanese Canteen – around the City / East End
~ Momo’wich – outstanding Thai + Malaysian
~ Needoo Grill – BYOB Indian grilled meats
~ Poppies – fab fish + chips, East End


Drift on Urbanspoon

Loch Fyne – fine enough

Our booking’s been made for two weeks and I’ve been looking forward to lobster all day.

So it’s a disappointing start when we turn up at Loch Fyne’s Leadenhall branch at 7pm and order two cocktails – a sazarac (rye whiskey and bitters) and a red snapper (tanqueray and spiced tomato) only to be told they had no bitters, and that they’d run out of fish and chips and lobster too.

We considered leaving but decided that there were some appealing alternatives on the menu, and ordered a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet dry white wine reasonably priced at £19.95.

To get the lobster fix I’d been craving, I chose a lobster bisque for starter @ £6.85 (the soup was good but the garlic bread tasted as if it had been charred on an unclean griddle – ie. of old burnt oil) and K had a tempura crab with chilli marmalade @ £8.45 (“nice enough but nothing special – slightly greasy”)


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Lobster bisque


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Tempura crab starter


For main course, I had a seafood grill @ £20.95 (Scottish salmon fillet, gilt-head bream, Scottish scallops, whole king prawn and Scottish rope-grown mussels, with new potatoes, spinach and chilli and coriander butter – really good variety although the fish fillets seemed a little tired and dried out).

K had grilled bream from the fresh fish bar menu @ £16.55 (firm, white fillet – sweeter than sea-bass – served with Hollandaise sauce, tenderstem broccoli, and buttered new potatoes).


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Seafood grill – salmon, bream, scallops, mussels + prawn


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Fish of the day – grilled bream


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Bill for two – £72.75 excluding service


All in all, this was a satisfactory meal out although Loch Fyne didn’t live up to my expectations (perhaps it was just this branch – maybe it was dead on this Friday night tonight, and the menu limited because they’d had a busy day serving City workers? Who knows).

But I’ll probably choose Cape Town Fish Market over Loch Fyne, next time I want to eat at a seafood restaurant.


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 2.5 / 5
~ Type: British, seafood
~ Address: Leadenhall Market, 77-78 Gracechurch Street, London
~ Postcode: EC3V 0AS
~ Nearest station: Bank/Monument
~ Website: Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Loch Fyne
~ Location: Loch Fyne Leadenhall map


RELATED LINKS

~ Black + Blue – Borough Market
~ Cape Town Fish Market – seafood restaurant
~ Fora Turkish – City
~ Roast – Borough Market


Loch Fyne - London, The City on Urbanspoon

The Draft House Battersea – best Sunday roasts (2012)

Update 2013

In the spirit of LardButty telling it how it really is it’s only fair to let you know that The Draft House(s) lost the *favoured pub* status in 2013. An isolated mishap could have (and would have) been overlooked but – on the few occasions I’ve visited in 2013 – service has been a let-down. It’d be dull to go into too much detail, but just to give you an idea:

i) Jan 2013 @ The Draft House Tower Bridge – poor service + cheeky tip:
Ate food in bar area (not restaurant) one Sunday afternoon. Table service was slow but as we were sitting so close to the bar we ordered our drinks at the bar ourselves. Now, we don’t mind paying £5+ a pint for an interesting real ale, but to add a 16% (yes, 16%) tip on to the drinks we’d got up and fetched ourselves was a little cheeky.

ii) 26 May 2013 @ The Draft House Westbridge – very poor service, ate elsewhere:
Sat in restaurant (mostly empty – it was a sunny day) intending to have a leisurely Sunday dinner here. Ordered snacks (foot long pork scratchings and sth else) while choosing our main Sunday dinner course. Browsed the draft beers in the bar room; placed drinks order at bar; bar staff said to sit down and they’d bring drinks through to our table. At our table, the snacks had arrived (ate them) but the drinks didn’t. Twenty or 30 mins after ordering beers at bar, we returned to bar room to see if they were coming – pints had been pulled when ordered but had been left, forgotten on corner of bar. Disappointing. After countless failed attempts to get the attention of the sole waiter/server in restaurant (to place our main food order) we gave up. Instead we went for a lovely little pub crawl around Battersea and had a really good meal with good service somewhere else.

iii) 29 July 2013 @ The Draft House Tower Bridge – inability to pull a fresh pint:
Lunch time drink with a friend over from Belgium. She ordered us two draft beers. Hers ran out half way through being poured. The bar girl apologised that there’d be a wait as the barrel needed changing (not a problem at all) and took payment in advance. Barrel changed, the bar girl topped up the glass (that was half full with the last spits from the previous barrel) with the first spits of the new barrel. And served.


Since writing this, I’ve noticed that other customers have had similar experiences, judging by comments on Tripadvisor, including quotes like “an expensive pub which would be fine if the food and service lived up to it”, “unimpressed with the service” and “Waited an hour for food to be delivered – no show and in the end asked for our money back”.

It’s incredibly disappointing to see such a great pub (chain) lose its way.


Recommending… The Rake
If you’re around London Bridge and fancy an interesting cask ale, served by friendly knowledgeable staff who like a chat and to share some tips about the range of beers they’ve got on (like The Draft House *used to be*) then head over to The Rake at 14 Winchester Walk, London, SE1 9AG, just around the corner from Borough Market where they guarantee ‘no crap on tap’. Check out their facebook page for daily listings of ‘what’s on the bar today’.




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Vast beer range at The Draft House Westbridge (Battersea)

Feb 2012:
We’ve been to The Draft House Battersea quite a lot lately, sometimes for food, sometimes just for a drink.

As it’s now reached *favoured pub* status, this Draft House branch warrants its own listing (you can read about The Draft House Tower Bridge, here).

To help you decide for yourself if it’s worth a visit (don’t just take my word for it) here are a few recent Westbridge culinary treats, so grab a beer and scroll on…

Sunday dinner one fine summer’s day
After kayaking, capsizing + swallowing a mouthful of the Thames, August 2011 – desperately in need of a better taste:

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Sunday roast: pork belly with mouth-wateringly crispy crackling + roast parsnips

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Medium rare chilli burger @ around £10


Sunday dinner in autumn
BK in town – he deserved another intro to the Draft House. Well, he’s getting old. He forgets…

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Perfectly runny Scotch egg with curried mayo starter @ £3.25

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Sunday roast: beef, parsnips, Yorkshire pud + trimmings @ around £10

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Medium rare burger (looks like a ‘smoke’: cheddar + house-cured bacon) @ £9.75


And one winter night, Feb 2012
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Hamburger special: The Yolk – 8oz burger with flat fried egg + glazed hollandaise @ £9.50

You’ll be hard-pushed to find a finer burger than the hamburger specials at the Draft House. Everything about this place has ‘thoughtful’ and ‘care’ stamped on it. Even the bar staff are passionate and knowledgeable about the range of drinks they sell.

And if you don’t like gastro food or any of the vast selection of beers, you can’t possibly dislike the wallpaper:

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Wallpaper on stairs down to loos

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BK pops into The Draft House, corner of Westbridge Rd

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5 (2012); 2.5 / 5 (2013)
~ Type: British
~ Address: 74-76 Battersea Bridge Road, London
~ Postcode: SW11 3AG
~ Tel: 020 7228 6482
~ Nearest station: Battersea Park, Clapham Junction
~ Website: Draft House Westbridge – Battersea website
~ Location: Draft House Battersea map

The Draft House on Urbanspoon