Some London restaurant reviews and notes from a New York Chowhound
not as good as it used to be...both in terms of quality of food or service. Apparently others agreed considering that there was no wait for a table at 745pm on a Monday evening. Had a cuttlefish starter that was quite large for ~6.50 pound and satisfying but ultimately forgettable. My main was a veal special with some sort of cheese risotto. Slow cooked and very autumnal. Very filling but not entirely tasty. My friend's hare and semolina gnocchi was a bit better. Puddings including a pretty lousy espresso mousse and a giant glob of buttermilk pudding with roasted plums. Not enjoyable. Service was friendly but the wait for our entrees took quite a bit of time. This used to be a favorite of mine in London but I left rather blah on the place.
espresso was merely okay, so was the pain au chocolate. My toasted cheese and ham breakfast sandwich was forgotten by the cook and came out very late. They apologized and comp'ed the espresso. Cute place but I wouldn't return. Pretty blah overall.
had the pork and miso udon after reading some positive reviews. Noodles tasted pretty goo-ey to me. Pork and miso was ultra salty. Place was decent in terms of price and I'm more of a ramen guy but Koya was not much of a winner for me. I suppose you could so worse in Soho for an inexpensive lunch though.
Also in Soho, a solid machiatto though a bit on the burnt side, pleasant staff though.
Had the set lunch since I was staying near Westbourne Grove. Decent value for lunch...15 pound for 3 course if I recall. Unfortunately, I ordered the sand eels with tartar sauce to start...just not my thing. I was expected some smoked eel or something along those lines. These were fried critters...a lot of them. I ate half of what was on my plate. My friend's salad with pork belly looked like a much better way to start. We both had the bavette of beef with some rather good fried potatoes. The steak was okay and for the price, a deal. My dessert was a profiterole...one of the better ones I had. The place was rather empty for weekday lunch, service wasn't great. Took forever to get my espresso with dessert...and it was served barely warm. I would be hard-pressed to try this place for dinner after this rather mediocre lunch meal.
St. John Bread and Wine
Stopped in for a late breakfast. Had the bacon sandwich and the eccles cake with a machiatto. From my last time in London (2007), I rather loathed my meal at St. John proper but this was a better option. Bacon sandwich was salty and buttery and rather delicious...very big sandwich. I wish I couldve shared it with someone. Eccles cake...good but not my thing. Currants, buttery crust but pretty rock hard. Espresso was solid. I think I like Bread and Wine much more than St. John because there's some value here as opposed to St. John where there is zero quality for the money.
Great Queen Street
Surprisingly, my favorite meal in London. Never went here as I think they just opened when I was last in town. Considering my meh Anchor and Hope meal, I expected little. We ordered an absolutely delicious plate of mixed mushrooms, flatbread and kale...super yummy...very good. The codfish roe was served in a salad of sorts and acted like an alternative to anchovies. A great choice. The chicken pie for two was delicious. Super buttery crust, the chicken was perfectly seasoned. We were angry we couldnt get more crust off as the plate cooled. Service was solid, great crowd as well. Perhaps Anchor and Hope's owners are more interested in focusing on Great Queen Street these days? Much more enjoyable meal.
Close to where I was staying, I went to Alwaha for lunch by myself. At 12pm on a weekday, I was the only customer and the staff were pretty unfriendly. I ended up getting a set lunch rather than the famous baby chicken. My shish touk was rather delicious though. I'm not an expert on Lebanese but I can tell this was above par for the cuisine. Very flavorful and filling. A bit on the price-y side considering that I can eat the same quality in NYC for 1/2 the price but a good option nonetheless. Followed it up with a chocolate ice cream cone at artisan chocolates next door. Best 2 pounds I spent in London...absolutely delicious.
Queens Head and Artichoke
Met a friend here for a pint and some tapas based on some good reviews. Food was fine enough. I had some pork meatballs which were good, some greasy fried calamari with aioli and lamb kebabs. Everything was solid but nothing worth traveling for. Staff was friendly unlike some reviews I read. Solid option in the area. Oh, chocolate souffle for dessert was excellent.
Best espresso I had in London. Super fresh pain au chocolat as well. Those ravers sure know what they are doing. A good respite on Portobello Road.
Had a mixed grill that was on the small side but at 10 pound, the price was reasonable I suppose. Friendly staff, great option for Indian in Westbourne Grove.
No. 10 Chinese
Had lunch here during the Cycle Show in London. I was actually staying on Hogarth in 2007 and never even remembered it. A real shame because the sichuan food here is excellent. Best dan dan noodles I've ever had. Almost tasted like a peanut curry. Double cooked pork was good too. Prices were great...only wish the staff were a bit friendlier.
I keep forgetting what a mob this place has turned into. That being said, the grilled cheese toast from the Raclette stand was insanely delicious and worth my 15 minutes on line...not too long actually. Best grilled cheese I've ever had.
The Brindisa (sp?) chorizo sandwich...the line was massive but once again, surprisingly worth it.
The chocolate mousse for 2 pound was just fantastic. Perfect dessert there. Finished my meal with a pint of ale at the George on Borough High Street...very enjoyable despite the mobs.
I ended up missing a dinner here in 2007 due to work so I was very much looking forward to Arbutus. With that said...what a huge letdown. Had a late reservation on a Saturday night. Staff was nice but completely not professional. Definitely not a high end eatery. Little things like having to pick your bread out of the bowl or being served espresso after we finished our dessert...this place is not polished whatsoever. As for the food, my smoked eel starter was good but pricey at 11 pound for a small portion. My main, the famous saddle of rabbit was a good quality piece of rabbit but completely underseasoned and mediocre. I wouldn't call Arbutus a horrible restaurant but it also is definitely not worthy of the praise it receives. Dinner of 3 starters, 1 entree, a carafe of mediocre syrah blend, 1 dessert and 2 espressos was 75 pound including 12% service.
Had Sunday dim sum here. Nothing mindblowing but definitely on the higher end in terms of quality of dim sum. Wasabi prawn dumplings, pork buns, cheung fun...all super yummy. I thought the staff was solid despite reading negative reviews.
I still have dinner at Harwood Arms tonight and dinner at St John Bread and Wine...to be continued.
Thanks for the review. I also like St. John Bread and Wine for breakfast. Last time, I had the porridge which was fabulous and toast with strawberry jam, which was also very nice. Harwood Arms is also one of my favorites. I love their soda bread and desserts especially. The baked custard with ginger cookies is great, so are the doughnuts. Also, their ice creams are lovely. I also like their crispy potatoes and salad of leaves. Sometimes, I make a meal of a soup, smoked salmon, which is served with horseradish cream and toasted soda bread, and also have the salad and potatoes, then two desserts. For me that's a great meal.
However, my favorite restaurants in London are The Ledbury and The Square. I think the atmosphere and cooking is superior to anything I can get here in New York.
Its interesting to see such disparate comments about St. John vs. Bread and Wine. My wife and I regularly eat at both and they are both solid though slightly different. It seems harsh to me to conclude there is zero value for money based on one visit there in 2007 but I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion - thats what this board is about.
I do agree that Great Queen Street is under-rated. We live nearby it and sometimes take out-of-town guests who dont want to walk far. Our last few visits have been surprisingly good.
In any case, thanks for the comments. I am an ex-NYer too (in the 90's) who moved to London two years ago.
I had a very poor dinner at St. John in 2007 that scarred me for some time...especially considering how revered St. John is back in NYC. The service was poor, I was served flavorless garbage, and was charged handsomely for the privilege.
As for Bread and Wine, obviously the prices are more in line with the quality of food. My expectations were obviously very low this time around and they surpassed them handily.
Many thanks for sharing your experiences!
I love the choc ice cream at L'artisan du Chocolat too, probably because of the boost of choc flavour from the cacao nibs.
Unfortunately, several of these places can vary in quality from day to day or dish to dish, which makes it hard to judge a place based on a small number of meals; I do remember varying quality across a few meals in St Johns. And actually No. 10 is one of those whose quality depends on the chef on duty.
As far as gastropubs go, my favourite so far is the Bull and Last, totally worth the trip to Kentish Town/Highgate. For modern European/British, Trinity in Clapham is excellent. Outstanding food at Brixton Village too -- see the posts by greedygirl.
BTW, re: Borough Market -- I really like La Tua's wild boar tortelli, and the stall next to Cafe Brood selling grilled meats in a sandwich benefits from nice sauces.
sorry sam, ref arbutus, theresa's bang on. picking bread out of the basket and coffee coming after dessert aren't technically incorrect from a service pov, especially since arbutus is based around a contemporary bistro concept. plus i don't actually know of any high-end restaurant who would dream of taking a coffee/tisanes order with dessert, let alone serve it at the same time.
also, "Dinner of 3 starters, 1 entree, a carafe of mediocre syrah blend, 1 dessert and 2 espressos was 75 pound including 12% service." potentially sounds like belting value for cooking of that calibre if the carafe were a full bottle (it wouldn't even be that bad if it were 2/3 or a 1/3 of the bott quite frankly).
re: marcus james
re price at arbutus: i never said it was expensive...we did quite well considering a mediocre meal. i think the service issue may be more of a difference in nyc vs. london then. if the restaurant is of quality...bistro or fine dining...bread service usually means that the server hands you the bread...you don't reach into the basket and put your paws all over the other pieces. it just seemed awkward and odd.
as for espresso...it is served along with dessert...always has and always should be.
for a final word on arbutus, i just feel that it was a disappointment across the board. rather bland food, unpolished staff...i just expected much more...so it goes...
"as for espresso...it is served along with dessert...always has and always should be." - must be a US thing. In Europe we would think of it as bad service to get coffee with dessert. Coffee comes after dessert to be enjoyed with petit fours or a brandy. Having it served with dessert makes is seem like you are being hurried out.
It's a shame you didn't like Arbutus - my last (of many great) meal here a few weeks ago was excellent - for both service and food.
It sounds like one of the reasons you disliked it is one of the reasons I like it so - that it isn't like the perhaps more 'stuffy' starred restaurants around and does have a more informal, bistro type feel, yet without compromising quality. Not having bread served to me does not constitute poor service.
I see the guys behind Arbutus and Wild Honey have opened a new restaurant in Covent Garden - will be interesting to see which route they go down for this and how it differs from the other offers (if at all).
Have walked by it recently -- quite close to Charing Cross tube/rail. The menu is largely standard classic French Bistrot food. Interestingly, they also serve AAAAA (a rating from an association) Andouillette, which I last saw at Gastro in Clapham. Not rushing to go, but might check it out if in the area.
Les Deux Salons promised to be more relaxed and affordable, but as anyone who has looked at the menu and peered through the window will agree, it's a fairly upmarket brasserie affair.
Food was rather good (albeit in opening week) and whilst I wouldn't run back myself, I would recommend it to people looking for a pre-theatre meal. There is a 15.50 3-course set menu and they'll also be doing afternoon tea.
I had the chorizo sandwich at Brindisa at Borough Market last November and have not stopped thinking about it since. Also spectacular was the grilled halumi sandwich at the Greek stand. Even though it's a 10.5 hour plane ride, I will be returning this fall, in part, because of that Chorizo sandwich.
Thanks for such a thorough report! Have been meaning to to check out GQS so must get there soon. I also really enjoy the coffee at Coffee Plant. I would also add to Limster's recommendation for The Bull and Last, a beautiful pub serving amazing food.
I wonder how long the average life-cycle of a top restaurant is, in terms of good reviews? Aside from the real top spots, most places with excellent reviews lose steam after a maximum of 2 years.
I have had some great meals at many of the restaurants listed by the OP, but like him, my more recent experiences there have b.l.o.w.n. I wish I could eat the same stuff by the same peop'z LOL over the years and never be B L O W N
slight detour to prague (the food is horrible there) and now im back in london for a few more days. while i was gone, i ended up having to cancel my harwood arms reservation as a friend was ill. instead i went to:
El Piratas de tapas
Another Westbourne Grove restaurant near my apartment, the food here was excellent. Ordered the bread and aioli (mostly to sop up the oil from my chorizo), chorizo (delicious heaping bowl), and pork cheeks (with shallot relish...absolutely divine). Service was friendly, the place had a good crowd and I enjoyed my dinner here tremendously.
i like Bocca di Lupo...foodwise: the grilled whole fish is succulent...the signature radish/pomegranate salad, the fritto misto, and the Romanesco broccoli are other things i like there...the waiters can be brusk during hectic times, but the hostesses are pleasant...
If you feel like an old mellow pub (not a gastropub, but w/ decent food), i like the Crown and Two Chairmen on Dean St...fine fish&chips...and, while i'm not a big fan of udon noodles, the ones at Koya (Frith St) are authentic -- i like the version w/ the noodles cold, but the broth warm...
But actually, i realized where might be even better: Randall & Aubin (Brewer St): raw oysters and assorted seafood (plus lamb, pork, salads, etc)...i like the lobster salad...imagine a seafoody gastropub reconceptualized as trendy oyster bar/diner...yeah, i'd say that your best option :)
i ended up at moti mahal...never really had high end indian in london before. 11 pounds was a steal for 2 courses...vegetable fritters, chicken mahkani, and assorted accoutrements. food was excellent though the bottle of water and rice really bumped up my cost basis...ended up being 25 pound with service.
not too bad considering that the food was great.