All reader reviews by AL

Smiths of Smithfield Top Floor

I dined here on a busy Friday night. Service was very slow, with dishes taking a long time to come out of the kitchen (over 15 minutes for the starters!).

They had run out of squid by 9.30pm, so their popular starter of salted squid was unavailable. We were only told about this when it came to ordering, so half the table had to choose another starter at the last minute. We should’ve been told before it came to placing the order.

I opted for the Dorset crab on toast as a starter. One third of the toast was BURNT, literally black. This is inexcusable. The chef in charge of that dish should’ve put the burnt toast straight in the bin, rather than trying to hide it under the crab. It only led to an unpleasant shock when I took a bite to discover the taste of bitter, charred toast, which ruined any flavour the crab had. The Head Chef should not have allowed this to leave his pass, but I expect he didn’t notice as the toast was hidden.

For a main I chose the Hereford rump, pan-fried with a béarnaise sauce. The steak was perfectly cooked and flavoursome. The chunky chips were nice too. The béarnaise sauce was delicious although it had been poured on top of the steak already, and I prefer to have it on the side for my chips. A slight bug-bear of mine.

The chocolate dessert was good, nothing spectacular but nothing to complain about either.

In summary, John Torode needs to spend some time in his restaurant, ironing out the problems in the kitchen and front of house. And they need to have a serious word with the chef who served the burnt toast! Prices here are way too expensive for the low quality of service and cooking they currently offer.

Friday, April 11, 2008
Overall rating 0 stars
Food 0 | Service 0 | Atmosphere 0 | Value for money 0

The Waterside Inn

I have dined here once before in the evening, but this time I came for a Sunday lunch. Once again, it impressed on all counts.

The restaurant was buzzing as ever (a few television celebrities were there too), and both Michel Roux Snr and Alain Roux were on hand to chat with each table after the meal. I think this is a nice touch, and it’s good to know that they actually work in the restaurant and value their customers. It’s also nice to chat to a chef of such high prestige and to ask him for cooking tips!

As for the food – excellent as usual. I won’t bother explaining what I had – it was rustic, it was perfectly cooked, and the ingredients were as good as they could ever be. The Roux’s don’t go in for over the top presentation like some other haute cuisine establishments I could mention. The dishes are classic and well presented. They look good to eat and of course, they ARE good to eat. Service is flawless, as you would expect from a 3 star Michelin restaurant.

A wonderful place and yes, the menu is very expensive, but for me the experience is well worth it. If you’re also a gourmet foodie, I think you would agree.

Friday, April 11, 2008
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10


Je ne comprends pas!

The much talked about new kid on the block, Galvin Bistrot Deluxe has taken the London gastronomic scene by storm, but should you believe all the hype?

The concept of a bistrot deluxe is rather simple. It's a deluxe bistro. A place where you can eat very good food for relatively reasonable 'bistro' prices. The set lunch here is good value at £15.50. But a 3 course a la carte meal for two, including wine and water will set you back around £85 - and whilst not cheap or particularly 'bistro' - I wouldn't say that was asking for too much either, when you consider the calibre of the head chefs and the robust food on offer here. Add to that the overheads of the central location and the high quality ingredients, their prices are actually quite reasonable. I've paid more for a lot worse.

However, it's not all roses. The menu is rather convoluted - some dishes being described entirely in French and with obscure gastronomic terms, whilst other dishes are described better and are easier to understand. Even the best French restaurants such as Le Gavroche have the translations in English so their customers know what they're ordering. So Galvin could certainly improve their menu by removing the gastro-pomp and making it more user friendly.

The service was okay, if slightly odd. My girlfriend ordered the fish soup, and upon being presented with this dish, the waiter informed her that the teaspoon on the table was to be used for the side plate of grated cheese, and the soup spoon - believe it or not - should be used for her bowl of soup. Now, my girlfriend may be blonde, but we thought that was taking it a bit far. We suspect that he was trying to be humorous, but it just felt mildly offensive and condescending. Not wanting to lower ourselves to his level, we decided not to mention the fact that the soup spoon was not actually a proper soup spoon, but a dessert spoon.

I won't go into details about the food - it was good. Nothing outstanding but nothing to criticise either. The wine list was good too. We ordered the Secreto Sauvignon Blanc that featured a rather amusing label with a drawing of two people in slightly obscene positions. Worth ordering just for that.

The overall experience was pleasant enough but I won't be hurrying back. It lacked character and atmosphere. If you want to eat at a real French bistro, try Le Chardon in East Dulwich.

Thursday, March 30, 2006
Overall rating 4 stars
Food 6 | Service 2 | Atmosphere 2 | Value for money 5

Le Chardon (East Dulwich)

Paris meets East Dulwich

Finding an authentic French restaurant in London is harder than one might imagine. At Le Chardon, however, you need look no further. The staff are all French, the food is French, the decor is French inspired, and it has the distinct romantic and buzzing ambience of a local Parisian bistro. And indeed the locals of East Dulwich and surrounding areas have certainly made this place their own. The need to book for a weekend reservation is essential, as this is the kind of restaurant that has people coming back, time and time again.

Before going any further, I would like to address the negative reviews that some people have written about Le Chardon. I do feel that it has something to do with a misunderstanding. The maitre d' is a friendly lady and with a sharp dry wit, quite abrupt and very 'French'. And it seems that certain sensitive customers may have misinterpreted her sense of humour as rudeness. C'est la vie. Pay these reviews no attention. All the staff here are friendly, welcoming, humorous and attentive. In fact the service here is part of the charm.

And then there's the ambience. Housed in a former Victorian butchers, the owners have retained many original features whilst turning the premises into a cosy venue, the lighting spot on - not too dark and not too bright, just casual, intimate, warming and romantic.

As for the food, well, the fact that I wanted to go back for lunch the next day and breakfast the day after, says it all. The food is excellent. Start with their sublime fish soup with mesmerising garlic cream and freshly baked rolls. Or if you're feeling brave you might attempt to devour an 18oz crab - so large and intimidating that you'll be glad it's on your plate and not waiting for you in a dark alleyway. Follow that with duck cooked in a delicious sesame seed and honey sauce, or a fillet of beef, tender and tasty and carnivorously satisfying. And if you still have room for dessert, then you're in store for some wondrously sweet delights. The wine list is well selected with some excellent bottles on offer for very reasonable prices.

In summary, if you're looking to have a romantic meal with someone special, or an intimate Gallic experience with some friends, go here. You really can't go wrong. One of East Dulwich's true gems.

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 9 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10

Island Grill

There are so many things that I could say about this restaurant. I could tell you that it opened in the Autumn of 2004, that it's a slick, chic and modern example of architecture au courant yet it manages to achieve an intimite and cosy atmosphere, that the service is warm and friendly, and that the Head Chef is a young British upstart by the name of Leigh Diggins who is rapidly establishing himself as a chef worthy of scaring the likes of Gordon Ramsay et al.

But none of that really matters. Not when the food is as good as it is here.

And that was the surprise. Having passed this restaurant a number of times, with half its exterior located in the Royal Lancaster Hotel, I had not expected to discover culinary heaven. The food was sublime, reaching standards you would expect from a Michelin star restaurant, though Island does not have any stars...yet. Watch this space. The ingredients were fresh and every dish was bursting with an array of distinct flavours, cunningly combined using robust recipes, deft cooking and stylish presentation.

Service was attentive and friendly, expertly and subtly directed by the professional and polite maitre d', though some of the staff were clearly still learning the ropes. The wine list was well chosen and you don't have to take out a mortgage to afford an excellent bottle.

We left the restaurant feeling extremely satisfied, well looked after and delighted that we'd discovered this gem of a place. Apparently the menu changes frequently so we'll certainly be going back to sample more of their gastronomic exultations.

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Overall rating 10 stars
Food 10 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10

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