All reader reviews by ANTHONYA

Comptoir Gascon

‘The best cassoulet,’ said Sonia, my French chum and former restaurant manager, ‘should really stick to your ribs’. In search of such a belly-busting experience, I came here last Tuesday. At lunch time, the diners were a happy mixture of old and young and the place was bustling without being manic.

The interior is a mix of the concrete from its warehouse origins, offset by fittings seemingly imported from a favourite bistrot. It looks uneasy, but after a few minutes you realise just how true the restaurant is to its vision of itself. The tables, for instance, are a combination of traditional dark brown wood and circular aluminium. And while the cutlery is modern, the food is served in earthenware dishes whose glaze appears crazed from decades spent in hot ovens. For real or for show? Either way, it all worked for me.

My starter was the salade landaise, which, with its base of French beans, was crisp, crunchy and actually a mite over-salted. For a second, I thought I was eating samphire. The fois gras added gloss to the greens and its rich flavour made the dish substantial and filling. My main was, of course, the cassoulet which they say you should allow 25 minutes to arrive. And as one whose memories of the dish come courtesy of Félix Potin, I thought the Comptoir take on it was terrific. It arrived still bubbling in the dish and was moist and succulent beneath the slight crust. The filigree of prosciutto, the duck leg and the curl of sausage marbled with pork and duck enough to make one savour each mouthful.

Service throughout was friendly, charming and smiley. The only vaguely bum note was the CD of Edith Piaf warbling in the background. (I mean, come on, no need to pander to the stereotype.)

As the last forkful went down, I reluctantly drained the silky glass of Vieillefont I had ordered and ear-wigged the French diners to my left. ‘C’est vachement bon!’ one exclaimed over his meal. I, meanwhile, returned to work, happy to doze at my computer for the rest of the afternoon.

I’m already booked in for next week.

Thursday, November 06, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 7 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 7

The Larder

It’s hard to like The Larder unreservedly when you wonder if the owners might have gone off it themselves. On the day we turned up for lunch, we were seated in a part of the dining-room notably gloomier than the rest of the restaurant. We both noticed a broken lampshade that hadn’t been replaced. At the back of the room, the bar was completely deserted, which gave the space the desultory air of an empty school canteen. We arrived at 12.45 and ordered from the set lunch menu but one of the starters had already sold out. The second choice was a scallop and smoked salmon ceviche which was tasty with crunchy greenery and a soy dressing which seemingly had peanut notes. My main course was shoulder of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and while they were very good, the meat was a little dry with insufficient jus to keep it moist. My friend had the halloumi salad which was fine but had ‘a bit too much onion’ in it. I came away feeling the whole experience – even the efficient service – was a little tired throughout. I would return as it’s the nearest ‘quality’ restaurant to work, but perhaps during the summer when natural sunlight might warm up the restuarant's dark and beige woods a little. Get that lampshade sorted out though.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Overall rating 5 stars
Food 6 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 4 | Value for money 5

St John

What a place. It doesn't even have any Michelin stars. But as the eGullet sages point out having them would really be beside the point.

Ok, a confession: if it’s possible to have a crush on a restaurant then I have one on St John. I’ve been going off and on since it first opened across the road from where I was working in the nineties, and the initial, uneasy impression I had of a bar accidentally marooned in an aircraft hangar has vanished to the point where it’s now become a firm favourite.

I have eaten both at the bar (Welsh Rarebit for padding, Sprats and Kohl Rabi for colour, Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad for boasting about) and the restaurant (Smoked Eel, Mash and Bacon, Chorizo, Chickpeas and Snails). But whatever the venue, the food is cooked honestly without a trace of self-indulgence or over-adornment which gives some of the more rustic dishes an almost Spartan appearance. I return today having had Devilled Kidneys at the bar, a bog standard huntsman's dish raised to giddy levels by rich, winey gravy with the meat cooked through to a crescent of raw flesh at the core of the meat. The blood traces in the sauce added notes accentuated by a robust French red as recommended by the friendly, informal staff.

I would say St John is unquestionably vaut le détour, but to be candid, Friday nights can be infernally packed, so it’s probably not the best time to come for dinner. Recently it started opening on Sundays but booking ahead remains essential. If you can manage it, I’d recommend lunch-times as it’s a lot more relaxed and even the city boys are quiet these days given credit crunches.

You either get St John, or you don't. But if my review seems too gushing I should say that I have seen Hugh Fairly-Long-Name, Naked Oliver and Bull Granger eating here on the same night.

It’s been named one of the best restaurants in the world for a reason, y’know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 8

Little Bay (Farringdon)

Pitched up for Sunday lunch expecting the worst since service is reportedly sketchy at the weekend. On the day, however, it was perfectly fine and while it’s easy copy to go ad hominem on the staff’s asses, only one friendly nudge was required from us for the legendary chips to appear. These were cooked in goose fat and are probably the best in EC1, each one crisp to the taste with no crumbling whatsoever inside. The starter was moules anglaises, sufficiently large to be a main course in itself. Then followed lamb steak accompanied by tomato and aubergine, the latter so soft and beefy, it might have been a veggie entrecote in itself. The sauce covering the steak was amazingly rich and winey and we were dabbing it up with the generous supplies of bread and butter. Throw in a medium glass of decent red and the bill came to an astonishing £12 all-in, remarkable value for the quality of cooking. Given the reports that ‘The Guardian’ are moving from Farringdon Road, this place needs your support, but Little Bay is categorically not a charity. It serves cracking bistrot-style food for a great price. Highly recommended: I have yet to come across a better value venue in this neck of the woods.

Monday, September 29, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 7 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 8

Pho (St John St)

Pho does its thing perfectly competently and it’s hard to quibble with either the price, the lively atmosphere or the perky service. It’s only afterwards you realise the mixture of hot, crunchy and sour flavours in your noodles came courtesy of the side dish of chilli, bean sprouts and lime which you add and squeeze to your own satisfaction. And the noodles are cooked to point of disintegration while the stock can be a mite salty. But if not pho-nomenal, it's still satisfying. If you’re expecting haute cuisine for seven quid, try Little Bay instead. (You won’t get it there either but the standard of cooking is higher.)

Monday, September 29, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 7

Smithfield Bar & Grill

As part of my self-appointed mission to munch my way around the eateries of Farringdon, I arrived here for lunch last week. You get to the restaurant by walking through a bar which appeared to be chocolate-coloured wood with chairs and sofas to match, standard for EC1 bars. The dining room itself seemed to be an extension, but one without windows and the lack of light coupled with the brick and earth tones reminded me – oddly enough – of a Berni Inn. The food however was quite good; we opted for goodish sized steak, cooked precisely as requested and chips accompanied by dcent Chilean and French reds. One of us decided to go off-piste and try the yellow fish curry which was good and strong with a nicely fiery chilli but not nearly enough immaculately boiled rice. The service was charmingly haphazard rather than god-awful: a glass, for instance, was poured for tasting then not filled at all as our waitress went round the rest of us. All-in-all, I’d definitely go again but those who prefer a lighter dining-room with slightly better prepared meats to match would be better off at The Well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 6 | Service 5 | Atmosphere 5 | Value for money 6

The Well

I popped in for lunch here last week and was very impressed. Quick, unobtrusive service that took this diner’s quirks (‘I like my steak slightly pink in the middle’) in their stride. Food was delightful in its presentation with sturdy chips, golden to the colour and fluffy inside with no crumbling. My steak came with a lively peppercorn sauce that all but danced on the tongue. My friend was also very impressed with her tuna nicoise with its eggs slightly runny in the middle. Happy to recommend and would return in a trice.

Monday, June 23, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 7 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 7


I went here on a quiet Monday evening with a friend and neither of us were disappointed either with the food or the charming service. It was tremendously good value not least because the portions were so generous. I had fried scampi with lentls as a delicious starter and it barely left me with enough room for the tortelone pasta stuffed with courgettes and prawns and finished with a creamy rocket and pesto sauce. My only slight complaint would be that the lentils were decidedly warmer in the middle than on the periphery which made wonder if a microwave had been used.

By the time we left, quite a few customers had turned up and it was entertaining to watch them speak in Italian then answer their mobile phone in broad Glaswegian. Entertaining and a good sign: when natives eat here you must be on a winner. Would definitely visit again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 7 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 8

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