Roka Mayfair – Japanese fine dining W1

Robata at Roka – fine dining for treat times

For a special occasion this evening, K and I headed to Roka for some seriously special Japanese robata (charcoal grilled) food. We chose this branch for its menu (see Roka Mayfair menu) which includes black cod, a favourite of mine.

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Tuna tataki, beef gyoza, tenderstem broccoli + chicken skewers

We ordered a bottle of dry white wine by La Croix Belle wine estate @ £34.00 – appropriate for a mild Spring evening, and spicy dishes and fish.

While the premium tasting menu looked quite appealing (10 set dishes @ £88.00 each) it seemed like a lazy option. We preferred the enjoyment of reading all of the menu and ordering exactly what we wanted.

As food was arriving at the neighbouring table, it was quite a challenge not to simply copy what they had – it smelt amazing. We took their recommendation for the fried aubergine salad, and were glad we did.

For starters, we shared these plates:

Age nasu no goma-ae @ £6.60
fried aubergine, sesame miso and katsuobushi

Yakitori-negima yaki @ £5.90
chicken skewers with spring onion

– Broccoli no shinme, shoga to moromi miso @ £5.60
tenderstem broccoli, ginger and moromi miso

Beef gyoza @ £9.30
with pickled cucumber and a soy based sauce

Nigiri unagi @ £6.90
two pieces of freshwater eel sushi

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Fried aubergine salad with sesame miso + katsuobushi (tuna flakes) –  @ £6.60

This fried aubergine with sesame miso was a recommendation worth sharing. Absolutely gorgeous. And the eel nigiri (pictured below) was the best I’ve had in the UK – we ordered two portions.

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Two pieces of nigiri unagi – freshwater eel sushi @ £6.90

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Yellowfin tuna tataki – with apple mustard dressing @ £12.60

For main course, we shared:

Kihada maguro no tataki @ £12.60
yellowfin tuna tataki with apple mustard dressing

Gyuhireniku no pirikara yakiniku @ £24.30
spicy beef fillet with chilli, ginger and spring onion

and, saving the best ’til last…

Gindara no saikyo-jaki @ £37.60
black cod marinated in yuzu miso

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Spicy beef fillet – with chilli, ginger and spring onion @ £24.30

Just divine. This black cod may seem a bit pricey @ £37.60 but it absolutely blew me away. And you can’t put a price on that.

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Black cod marinated in yuzu miso @ £37.60

The kitchen is open plan in the centre of the restaurant, so you can see the food being cooked on the robata grills. It’s a bit like posh BBQ-ing really.

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Men at work: robata grills in the centre of the restaurant

 

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Roka Mayfair interior

Our total bill for two came to £185.21 including service.

 

The verdict: Perfectly prepared and beautifully presented food that’s so incredibly tasty, it blew me away. Full marks to the kitchen. Service was at odds (either too much – we went from different servers descending on us one after the other, to non-existent). If you like Japanese food, you’ll love Roka.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4.5 / 5
– Type: Japanese, Robata
– Address: 30 North Audley Street, London
– Postcode: W1K 6ZF
– Nearest station: Bond Street, Green Park
– Website + menus: Roka Mayfair website
– Roka Mayfair photos: Roka Mayfair photos on flickr
– Location: Roka Mayfair map

Roka Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bocca di Lupo – classy Italian in Soho W1

From cheesy balls to Grandpa’s balls, Bocca di Lupo specialises in obscure, regional Italian cuisine and the menu changes twice a day. 

The first tip is to book well in advance. For our reservation for two this Friday evening, the only availability (having booked a couple of weeks beforehand) was at 7.15pm, perched on high stools at the counter.

On arrival, I was disappointed to see how little space there is for those dining at the bar overlooking the open-plan kitchen, with high stools close together.

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Sea bream carpaccio starter @ £9.00

J had an amaretto sour cocktail @ £10 and I had a glass of Malvasia Nera ‘falo’ San Marzano @ £6.60 (see the red wine list here) while reading the enticing menu. Some dishes needed an explanation from our waiter, whose descriptions made them all the more exciting. It’s not a traditional Italian menu by any means – there’s definitely no pizza but there are plenty of appealing seafood options (if you like seafood). And the Italian region is given for each dish, to show where it’s a speciality.

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Deep fried mozzarella bocconcino balls

We chose six small plates to share, tapas or cicchetti style:

Sea bream carpaccio with orange + rosemary @ £9.00
Buffalo mozzarella bocconcini deep fried in bread crumbs @ £2.50 each (tip: get two each!)
Ricotta ravioli with wild garlic, served with butter + hazelnuts @ £8.00
Octopus, roast tomato, celery + basil salad @ £9.00
Caponata – aubergines, celery + tomato in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce) @ £7.00
Orechiette di gran arso (burnt grain pasta) with cime di rapa (a variety of sprouting broccoli) + pecorino (hard sheep’s cheese) @ £7.50

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Ricotta + wild garlic ravioli 

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Octopus, roast tomato, celery + basil salad

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Caponata – aubergine, celery, tomato in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce)

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Orechiette di gran arso with cime di rapa + pecorino 

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Tonight’s menu – 24 March 2017

All of these dishes were stunning, and I’d happily have all of them again next time. Being seated at the end of the bar next to the serving station, it was a busy thoroughfare. But on the plus side, it was easy to get service and great for eyeing up other dishes to try in the future (the roast wild turbot with lentils and salsa verde @ £24.00 served whole, got my attention).

From the dessert menu, we shared a bonet – chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel + rum pudding @ £7.00 (I’m not a huge chocolate fan and I don’t like coffee flavouring in food but this was gorgeous – you could really taste the amaretti almond bits in it; it’s perfect for sharing and not as sickly as it looks) and le palle del nonno or Grandpa’s balls – ricotta with chocolate, deep-fried in a light batter and sprinkled with icing sugar @ £7.00 (so good; take a closer look inside here).

We both had a 70 ml glass of Moscato d’asti Adriano sparkling dessert wine @ £3.50 – sweeter than I normally like, but it went really well with these desserts. So well in fact, I had another when J had a coffee…

Check out the dessert wine and grappa menu.

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l: Le palle del nonno ‘grandpa’s balls’ – deep-fried ricotta
r: Bonet
– chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel + rum pudding

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Moscato d’asti Adriano sparkling dessert wine – cosy, perched on the counter by the serving station

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Bar seats at the counter – it’s a small space if you’re sharing a few plates

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Open plan kitchen

The verdict: The quality of the food and drinks compensated for the discomfort of the tiny bar space. While this place isn’t cheap (our bill for two was £126.90 including service) you do get what you pay for – it’s more of a place to go for a treat than every day dining (you need to book well in advance anyway).

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Italian
– Address: 12 Archer Street, Soho, London
– Postcode: W1D 7BB
– Nearest station: Piccadilly
– Website + menus: Bocca di Lupo website
– Bocca di Lupo photos: pics of Bocca di Lupo on flickr
– Location: Bocca di Lupo map

Bocca Di Lupo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bird of Smithfield – Farringdon EC1A

Classy food in a Georgian townhouse, this restaurant is spread over several interestingly decorated floors

On our visit this evening we chose from this menu here. For starters, I had baked heritage beetroots @ £8.00 – very reasonably priced and outstandingly tasty. Just look at those beautiful big chunks of fresh celeriac with a good dollop of goat’s curd – a great mix of flavours along with the beetroot and balsamic and sorrel leaves:

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Baked heritage beetroots starter with goat’s curd, balsamic, celeriac, radish, sorrel

Another starter that went down very well was this pan fried foie gras @ £12.50:

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Pan fried foie gras with shaved turnip, kibbled onion, roasted duck consommé

 

Service was very slow and we had a long wait (and apologies from the waitresses) for food.

For main course, I had this wild Cornish turbot (so good, it was worth the wait!), served with fresh pasta, clams and butter:

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Wild Cornish turbot with hand-rolled farfelle, clams, celery, Swiss chard, shellfish butter

 

Creatively presented, this caramelised duck breast with a pie top looks almost too good to eat. Almost.

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Caramelised duck breast with crushed pumpkin, pickled red cabbage, spiced honey and a braised leg pie @ £23.00

 

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Bird of Smithfield restaurant – in a Georgian townhouse opposite Smithfield meat market in Clerkenwell, London

 

The verdict: Stunningly presented food that’s outstandingly good. The homeliness of the townhouse was very appealing, and the interior is really tastefully designed and comfortable. Service wasn’t great but I’ll definitely be back to try more of this menu.

 

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: British, international
– Address: 26 Smithfield St, Clerkenwell, London
– Postcode: EC1A 9L
– Nearest station: Farringdon, Barbican
– Website + menus: Bird of Smithfield website
– Bird of Smithfield photos: Bird of Smithfield photos on flickr
– Location: Bird of Smithfield map

Bird Of Smithfield Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Damascus Chef pop-up at the Good Hope cafe – Hither Green SE13

Souq meze with a personal touch

The Damascus Chef (Abdullah Alawayed) and his partner host Syrian meze dinners at various locations in South London. Find out about their current pop-up events on the Eventbright website where you can reserve places. It’s currently £23.95 for adults or half-price for children and you pay locally, at the end of the meal.

We went to the ‘Souq meze’ pop-up at the Good Hope cafe, Hither Green (an award-winning community cafe run by the ForJimmy charity) on Friday night and joined the 6.30pm sitting (on Friday evenings there are 8.30pm sittings too).

Arriving early, the hostess welcomed us excitedly, and talked enthusiastically about the careful preparation that goes into making the dishes on this menu. Which rubs off on customers and makes for a good atmosphere in this small, cosy space, where candle-lit tables were decorated with pomegranate seeds at each place setting.

 

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Meze with fresh bread to share

Top l-r: Fool mudamas bi humous (fava beans crushed with chickpeas, chopped tomato, parsley, olive oil, lemon + cumin) and humous (crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil, tahini, cumin + garlic)
front l-r: Mutabbel (flame-grilled aubergine infused with yoghurt, tahini, garlic + cumin) and lebneh (thick, canvas-strung cows’ yoghurt)

 

We ordered a bottle of Rioja (@ about £16.00 – very reasonably priced and very nice too) and were blown away by the fresh tastiness of the meze starters. The food is familiar as middle-eastern but with a specific Syrian style – for example, humous is made with a ratio of more chickpeas to tahini, and is thicker and creamier for it. The mutabbel (aubergine dip) was absolutely gorgeous and the lebneh (really thick, creamy yoghurt) was a winner too. Shared starters are served with a variety of fresh breads and are limitless (if you dare).

Next came this shurbat adas, a traditional Syrian lentil soup with coriander seeds and cumin:

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Lentil soup

 

For main course, there was a selection of three dishes (we’d had to choose our main course in advance, when reserving):

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Kawaj – Levantine courgette, aubergine and green pepper casseroled in tomato sauce, sauteed onion, garlic and fresh coriander; topped with fresh chives and served with yoghurt and cucumber, pomegranates, walnuts, pine-nuts + fresh tabouleh

 

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Syrian lamb stew – Diced organic leg of lamb stewed with freekeh (smoked green wheat) infused with pine kernels, cashews, pistachios, almonds, green peas + raisins, served with optional yoghurt + cucumber (not pictured) + fresh tabouleh

I had this lamb stew. It tasted as though it had been slow-cooked and was steeped in many flavours. Really good.

 

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Jaj bil muhammara – Chicken thigh braised with lemon, coriander + pomegranate syrup, on a bed of crushed mild chilli muhammara, served with walnuts, yoghurt + cucumber, and tabouleh salad

 

For dessert, the choice was baklawa with ice-cream, or ice-cream with watermelon. I had baklawa:

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Jiljil wa hab ruman – Traditional filo pastry baklawa made with flour, syrup, honey, butter, egg white + pistachio, served with ice cream. Laden with fresh mint, pomegranates + pistachios.

 

For the fifth and final chai course, we had a choice of fresh mint, cardamom or cinnamon + walnut.

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Chai – cinnamon + walnut tea

 

The verdict: Good value for such a freshly prepared, unique and tasty banquet. The hosting couple put their heart and soul into making this dining experience enjoyable and relaxing for customers – the kind of personal touch that you don’t easily find in high-street restaurants. And the choice of venue for this pop-up makes it even more worthwhile. Eat, drink and be very merry – your money goes to good places.

 

Pop-up info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Syrian, middle-eastern
– Location: venues vary – this was at the Good Hope cafe, 216 Hither Green Lane, London, SE13 6RT
– Contact: chef@damascuschef.com
– Website + menus: Damascus Chef website
– Damascus Chef events (reserve places): Eventbright website
– Photos of Damascus Chef: Damascus Chef on flickr

Caravan – Kings Cross N1C

Our group of eight ate from a ‘set menu’ this eve. This is great when there’s a few of you as it means you can have a few starter plates to share (they’re exceptionally tasty) and still get to choose a main course and dessert.

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Sample set menu for groups

If eating from the a la carte menu, this Burmese chicken salad, turmeric, chilli, lime and peanuts starter sharing plate is £7.50. It’s a gorgeous blend of flavours.

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Burmese chicken salad – starter sharing plate

This red quinoa and buckwheat grain bowl, stem broccoli, sweet potato, peanuts with miso-tahini dressing is £8.00 on the a la carte menu. Again, really tasty and healthy too.

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Quinoa and buckwheat grain bowl – starter sharing plate

There’s a good choice of wines ranging from £18.00 a bottle up to about £60.00 (we had a good Rioja @ £18.00).

After such a good start with the amazing sharing plates, my expectations were raised. And dropped again. Most of our main courses arrived together, but some didn’t arrive until after a further 20 minutes (so a couple ended up eating after everyone else had finished).

Pizzas are stone-baked and nice enough but the base is very thick, made from a heavy dough – it was like munching through a loaf of bread and a bit of a chore. Toppings were nice and fresh but my pizza base was burnt. Still, there was enough of it that even after cutting off the burnt part of the base, I was still left with plenty.

This mozzarella, tomato + basil pizza is normally £9.00 on the a la carte menu:

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Mozzarella, tomato + basil pizza

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Portobello mushroom, porcini ricotta, mozzarella + rocket pizza

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Caravan Kings Cross – a grade II listed Victorian grain store

The verdict: Appealing venue, basic but cosy. Food was either exceptionally good (starters) or poor (burnt, thick-based pizza) and service wasn’t great (that our group’s main courses arrived at different times, meaning we ate – in effect – in two sittings, was disappointing).

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
– Type: International
– Address: Granary Square, 1 Granary Square, Kings Cross, London
– Postcode: N1C 4AA
– Tel: 020 7101 7661
– Nearest station: Kings Cross, St Pancras
– Website + menus: Caravan Kings Cross website
– Photos on flickr: Caravan Kings Cross photos on flickr
– Location: Caravan Kings Cross map

Caravan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Begging Bowl – Thai tapas in Peckham SE15

Thai tapas concept menu

We were a party of ten on a Friday evening and this restaurant in Peckham was heaving. Tables were packed in close together and we were crammed in. It was noisy and lively befitting a Friday evening – the start of the weekend – but the acoustics were poor making it difficult to hear conversation.

Dishes are designed for sharing. The menu offers 12 dishes, roughly half are starter portions and the other half mains. Plus limitless Jasmine rice and sticky rice @ £2.50 a head, and a choice of three desserts.

Drinks took ages to arrive and weren’t altogether correct when they did. That continued throughout the meal. By the time they did arrive, we were happy to accept whatever had been brought. Servers were busy and under pressure; service was hit and miss.

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Thai tapas at the Begging Bowl
Top – starters: (left) Miang of pomelo, ginger, peanuts, dried galangal, palm sugar, seaweed, caviar wrapped in betel leaf @£5.60, (right) mixed salad starter about £5.80
Bottom – pudding: (left) Coconut saffron rice, pomelo, satsuma, cognac caramel, cobnuts, puffed black + flat rice, jasmine smoked coconut cream @£6.00, (right) Banana fritters, coconut sesame batter, tamarind, peanut brittle, turmeric custard @ £6.70

We ordered most plates from the Thai tapas menu to share (the food was amazing – top marks to the kitchen) starting with a peanut and ginger miang (a bite sized snack, wrapped in a leaf) with pomelo (citrus fruit), dried galangal, palm sugar, seaweed, and caviar wrapped in betel leaf @ £5.60 – absolutely gorgeous blend of flavours; a salad of salsify, betel leaf, lemongrass, coriander, peanuts, Thai shallots (there’s an option to have this salad with chargrilled duck) about £10.00; and a morning glory stir fry with garlic and fermented yellow bean @ £6.50.

This menu is really pleasing for nut lovers like me.

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Charcoal grilled salt-crusted whole gilthead bream stuffed with pandanas, lemongrass, grilled green chilli dip @ £13.50
Behind: a near-finished plate of morning glory (Thai green stems) stir-fry @ £6.50

This charcoal grilled salt-crusted gilthead bream was a hit (we ordered more). You can see what it looked like whole (above) and the soft white fish-meat inside is pictured below.

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Sticky chicken, gilthead bream, sticky rice, morning glory stir fry

Other dishes we shared included chargrilled sticky chicken @ about £12.50, a mushroom parlow – king oyster mushrooms, shiitake, hens egg, and pickled morning glory (Thai green stems) @ £9.50 and of course – an unlimited supply of Jasmine rice and sticky rice.

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A selection of dishes: Parlow of king oyster mushrooms, shiitake, in foreground; sticky chicken left

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Parlow of king oyster mushrooms, shiitake, hens egg, pickled morning glory @ £9.50

For dessert we shared a dish of coconut saffron rice, pomelo, satsuma, cognac caramel, cobnuts, puffed black + flat rice, jasmine smoked coconut cream @ £6.00 and banana fritters made with a coconut sesame batter, tamarind, peanut brittle, and turmeric custard @ £6.70 (exceptionally good).

The verdict: Prepare for noise, being squashed in, hit-and-miss service and excellent food. This ‘Thai tapas’ concept menu puts an interesting twist on traditional Thai food. It’s worth a visit.

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
– Type: Thai, Thai tapas
– Address: 168 Bellenden Road, Peckham, London
– Postcode: SE15 4BW
– Tel: +44 20 7635 2627
– Nearest station: Peckham Rye station
– Website + menus: The Begging Bowl website
– Begging Bowl photos: The Begging Bowl photos on flickr
– Location: The Begging Bowl map

The Begging Bowl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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