All reader reviews by Marcus Holden

The Ivy

I was taken to the Ivy (my second visit) for my recent birthday and can only say that my review is likely to further muddy already confused waters.... The overall experience was lacking compared to my first visit a few years back: the ambiance is still wonderful, service attentive and swift, setting at the same time characterful old-world and descretely modern. Dishes are inventive and (in our cases at least, tasty). Prices very acceptable for central London in a resturant with such a high staff to client ratio. So what let it down?

I felt we were rushed. Our reservation was for 7pm but we called and asked if we could defer until 7.30pm and were told this was no problem. Duly arrived for 7.30 and were seated promptly; no asking if we wished a drink while we considered the menu and twice we were asked if we were ready to order. We ordered and the starters arrived in what seemed like moments! Being hungry we tucked in and despatched this first course - plates were whisked away and we'd barely had a sip of wine before, bang, mains arrived. Both having had substantial starters this was not really welcome. Perhaps we should have complained but of all the things to directly complain about, that must be the hardest. Anyway, I was barely able to eat half my main, and certainly couldn't now face a dessert from the fabulous list - and astonisingly we were on the way out by 8.40. What a shame! It wasn't even as if they were busy - certainly our table did not appear remotely required for a 9pm service, as we were originally told it would be. Maybe in future I will discretely ask to have a pause between courses, and pointedly ask for a pre-dinner drink - but then I think: "Why should I, I'm at the Ivy!".

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 9 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 9


El Faro

I have been here twice. The first was for a wedding when my friends had the place booked out and it was excellent, catering fabulously for the 60 or 70 of us. The second time was for a celebratory lunch this week and it lived up to my high expectations. We ate from the £15 lunch menu (3 tapas plus a drink) and every dish was spot on. We had patatas bravas (big portion, roast-style potatoes not fried), tempora chorizo (great idea!), gambas (big, juicy, spicy), pulpo on potato, boquerones (14, yes 14, fat little sardines) and albondigas (definitely home-made). We added croquetas, which were made with black pudding - inspired! - and drank the Rias Baixas Albarino which was excellent at £23.

All-in-all, the experience couldn't be faulted. The service was spot on and the location on the terrace was fabulous (although if I could nit-pick I would rather be right on the dock rather than 10m away with folks sat on benches eating their sandwiches right below the table), with sun and a little shade from the trees (if a bit windy). Definitely be back soon!

Thursday, July 22, 2010
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 10 | Service 10 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 9


The Compass

This pub is under new management for the second time in 2 years, having changed its name from the Deal Porter. The new owners have set about building a reputation based on quality, British inspired food - and I'm very pleased to say they are succeeding.

I live just across the road and have eaten here twice for dinner in an evening in the couple or 3 months since it opened (plus a few bar snacks, the odd massive breakfast and a very satisfying Sunday lunch). Both times in the evening we were treated to excellently presented, tasty and slightly different meals. The first time in a party of 4, and whilst I don't recall what all the others had, I went for roast pork with the chef's home-made black pudding and it was delicious. The second time, slightly less elaborate, but we had starters of asparagus and bacon with Hollandaise sauce (mmmmm) and mains of hake with shrimp and sirloin steak (cooked to perfection), and a yummy cheese selection with biccies. Prices can be a little toppy for "pub grub", especially by comparison to the local competition and by the time sides are ordered, but they are trying to be different so it's worth the extra once in a while. They also seem to be starting to do a few cheaper options (recent ones have been "pie and a pint" deals, and early evening offers for 2 courses at around £15 I think). Service is friendly and relaxed, but effective. And meals can be had either in the pub/restaurant or in the kiddie/dog friendly large rear garden.

Wines range from the reasonable to expensive (by pub standards), and seem well selected. A particular bonus for me is the excellent ales - currently Brakspears Best and Hobgoblin (the Hobgoblin seeming to be a long-term regular now). Definitely worth a visit!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 9 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 7


Lovage

This was a surprise visit - had intended to go to another Indian in the vicinity but happened past Lovage and thought we'd pop in. Definitely worth the diversion!

The lower bar/restaurant area was cold and very quiet - I guess when they are shorter on custom they simply use the upper area, but in which case it seemed odd to have the bar staffed. Still, it wasn't freezing and the beer stayed at the right temperature....

We ordered and moved upstairs, where the decor is modern but not overpowering. Subdued lighting, and gentle asian music. And nicely warm after the chill of downstairs! The fact we had already ordered confused the staff a little (see previous reviews about multiple waiters per table) but in general things worked out well. The food was not "madras and bhoona" standard fare, though the variety is perhaps not wildly different to many places these days. Though the execution was a cut above - my Xacuti Chicken was particularly tasty, and the Peshwari Naan was delicious. Yes, a nice naan can make the difference! The wine list was nice and varied and the Malbec highly drinkable. The beer was cold - seems a given, but you'd be surprised.

Recommended and I'll be back.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 8 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 8


The Mayflower

I have been visiting this pub for 18 years now. It has a fabulous atmosphere and charm, and the sense of history one gets on visiting is spot-on. The fire in winter is very welcoming. I haven't eaten here in a few years and perhaps I will (great sounding menu, with lots of seafood) - but not until they sort out the beer. I keep coming back for the aforementioned reasons of atmosphere etc, but never stay long - I really don't know what they do to the Greene King IPA but it never tastes quite right. It's a beer I usually enjoy, and have had many hundreds of pints of it over the years, but I can't put my finger on what's wrong with it at the Mayflower. The place has often been quiet on my recent visits (3 or 4 since Autumn '09) and maybe (early evening visits) I've had one of the first pints through the pipes? Perhaps a real-ale aficinado can help me out. Oh, and the wine (a very ordinary malbec) was pretty steep at £4 for a small glass.

Sunday, February 21, 2010
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 5 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 5


The Ship & Whale

First visit under new ownership of this local favourite. I'd heard a couple of comments that something had been lost with the new chef taking over. Time will tell but the experience of our large party (8) last Saturday was not that this was the case: the peri-peri chicken was maybe not quite as spicey as I've had before but very tasty; the risotto got good feedback; the speed with which the sausage and mash vanished suggested it was good. Price-wise it's still at the top end for pub-grub but in general not excessive - though maybe £7.95 for a basic burger (then add £1 each for toppings - including onion?! sorry, I expect that's part of the basics?!) you can easily hit a tenner for a burger. That's spicier than the peri-peri..... Spitfire was as good a pint as ever.

Anyway, the staff are as friendly as ever, and the new landlord was very welcoming. I'll be back.

Sunday, February 21, 2010
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 7 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 8


Simplicity

Mindful of a few of the reviews here, I visited Simplicity last Thursday. Anticipating good food, and perhaps service somewhat lacking. On arriving, early (they open at 6.30pm), and with no reservation at 6.50pm, I was a bit taken aback on finding the restaurant un-staffed. Having stood for a full minute waiting for service to appear, and having been completely ignored by the kitchen staff who could clearly see us loitering in the dining area, we decided to leave and regroup. Maybe I could have yelled for service, but something in me finds that a little degrading. I feel I am the customer and if I have to go hunting for the staff I'm in the wrong place....

After a pint at the nearby Mayflower, I was pursuaded to return. And to be fair, was very glad I did. By 7.20pm things were starting to move, and the waitress who showed us to the table apologised for the earlier lapse, explaining she had been in the office. Hmmmmm. Perhaps a bell on the door might be useful? Anyway, to the food:

Starters of a ham a split-pea soup (delicious) and goats cheese tart (lovely, crisp pastry and tangy cheese, but perhaps could have been a touch warmer - personal taste) were served reasonably promptly. The Chilean Malbec was excellent. A slight break and then to the mains - the roast lamb was perfect (pink, spiced with a nice crunchy crust and on bubble - very East End) and the battered fish beautifully presented with delicious batter. No room for dessert but next time (and there will be a next time) I may skip the starter to ensure I get to try one.

I can't believe it's taken me so long to get to Simplicity. I'm saddened at the reviews commenting on service, but with luck they have ironed out the problems there and this will continue to be an excellent small, local bistro-style gem.

Sunday, February 21, 2010
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 9 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 8


The Yellow House Restaurant

As one of the (very) few restaurants in the area I have been to the Yellow House a number of times, in both its guise on Plough Way (now sadly closed, seemingly permanently) and also the newer version on Lower Road (opposite the entrance to Surrey Quays East London Line tube). Neither option has ever disappointed. Decor in the new version is different (ex-pub, with industrial feel), and the place varies from buzzingly-busy to overly quiet, so the appeal of the atmosphere is a matter of personal taste.

Seemingly all the items on the menu use fresh ingredients, with much organic produce, and food is prepared and cooked in view of diners. Pizza's are of the "thin and crispy" variety, imaginative in the ingredients, enormous, and cooked in a wood-fired oven. The other dishes vary from visit to visit, but there are generally steaks, chicken, duck, fish and vegetarian dishes served in numerous manners and complemented with simple salads, chips and mash. Desserts are home made/baked and have usually been delicious. The wine selection has never let me down and doesn't cost the earth, but there's also a selection of draught beers if you want to be less formal.

Service is unfailingly friendly, though may not be the swiftest as often only one or two staff deal with the bar and waiting-table. If one of the owners is cooking you will probably also get a personal visit to enquire as to your satisfaction with the meal.

Cost: not cheap, but you won't need to re-mortgage either. Pizzas comfortably less than a tenner, mains from £8 to perhaps £15 for the most elaborate dish. Wine selection less than £20. Enjoy! I always have...

PS The weekend brunch (Eggs Benedict, yum!) and Bloody Mary is a little gem!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 10 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 9


The Thailand Restaurant

I've been to Thailand a couple of times in the last months and both times have been excellent value for money. Ok, the food isn't perfect but at around £10/head for starter, main and rice it's hard to find fault. Shame on you, the reviewer who thought £2 was cheeky for rice - that's pretty much take-away prices, and the portions are enough to share if you're not of a massive appetite!

On specifics: the mixed hors d'ouvres was pretty fair though most were obviously straight from the local oriental cash-n-carry, but hot and nicely served; Angry Lamb was most certainly hopping mad, spicey as you'd want and delicious; crispy duck was ok but pricey compared to the rest of the menu; red chicken curry was excellent and the varient on Singapore noodles similarly.

Service is fine - swift but sometimes comprehension needs to be confirmed! Beer just about cold enough but the fridge may struggle come summer given I've eaten there in winter...

Overall, excellent value for money and to be recommended.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 7 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 10


Bouchon

An old favourite over the years, usually just eating in the bar area, enjoying a glass of wine or pint with friends. I cannot therefore comment on the "overpriced" claims of some reviewers if they are referring to the restaurant, but £16 (as paid last night) for a nice rib-eye, cooked exactly to my wishes, with crispy fries, or £6/7 or so for a croque+fries seems fair to me.

Yes, service is far from perfect but generally pretty friendly, if a little disorganised. They seemed not to know who would serve us, but once that was established no great dramas followed, and food arrived promptly once ordered. Had to ask for mustard but it was likewise brought swiftly and with no fuss.

I never go expecting cordon bleu, or silver service, and have never been disappointed. Maybe when it's packed things go downhill - but for now I'll keep coming back on quieter evenings and enjoy the place!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 8 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 7


Cafe Pacifico

I have been eating at Cafe Pacifico for years. Please don't ask me how many, it's not polite.... Up until my most recent visit, a quiet Monday, I would have said it was head-and-shoulders the best overall value Mexican I've been to in London - consistent quality food; snappy service; great cocktails and a very fair price for the package.

Sadly, no more. Well, at least not on my most recent experience. Service was still fine to good - swift, if not highly attentive. Atmosphere was lacking, but then it wasn't a Thursday or Friday night. Cocktails were still impressive - Margaritas (straight up) to die for. No, it was the food was the major let-down. The sharing-dipping starter was oily. Yes it was mainly fried but you can manage to leave some flavour of the underlying food over the fatty taste! Somehow the chilli-poppers managed not to have a bite; the "spicy baby shrimps" were just fatty crunchy breadcrumbs and there was no spice I could detect; the onion rings were just plain. My chicken chimichanga was ok, but again greasy; rice was cold and the refried beans looked like they might have been sat re-frying for quite a while too long. Yet were still cool on the plate. Quite a challenge.

I will give it another go, for old time's sake. But once more and I will count it as yet another "old friend" of a restaurant lost, perhaps in pursuit of swift profit?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 4 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 7


Tapas Brindisa

I went to Tapas Brindisa a few months ago after hearing some positive comments from friends. Sadly my own experience lacked the punch that would have made it worth shelling out the extra to distinguish it from a "run of the mill" tapas bar.

Location cannot be faulted, on a busy corner of Borough Market and Southwark Street, and the friendliness of the staff on our entrance to the place was gratifying. Unfortunately the rest of the service experience went downhill rapidly. They were busy, yes. And they squeezed us in, true. But despite that, when you pay close to £100 for tapas for 2, the service should be spot-on. It was not, it was slow. It took over 15 minutes to get a drink. Our waitress's command of the names and content of the dishes fell short of even my own poor Spanish. Several tapas, once finally ordered, failed to materialise until we prompted again. A glass of water never made it despite 3 or 4 attempts at ordering.

The quality of the food is undoubtedly good. The ingredients were certainly superior. My one comment is that there seemed a confusion as to what was being offered - tapas or nouvelle cuisine? The efforts to mix flavours and be "different" seemed to detract from many of the dishes we tried, largely because there was so much going on that subtle flavours were lost. Why use expensive ingredients then swamp them?

I'm not saying I wouldn't go back if invited as part of a group - but I would be more vocal about poor service and pick my dishes with care. And with so much choice in London, I can't see I will be recommending it to my friends.

Friday, May 09, 2008
Overall rating 5 stars
Food 7 | Service 4 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 3


Meson Don Felipe

I'm sorry the previous reviewers had a less than pleasing visit to this restaurant, but I have eaten at Meson Don Felipe several times over the last 2 or 3 years and have always be entirely satisfied with my experience. I think the key is to remember that it is not setting out to be "high class" or indeed anything other than a replication of a local Spanish tapas bar. Most of, if not all, the staff are Spanish too, adding to the authenticity. The food is in general basic but tasty. Go for the chorizo, squid, gambas, albondigas and boquerones and fill up on patatas bravas and tortilla. All, to my taste at least, indistinguishable from any I've had in many bars in Spain. The wine is usually fine, though much is "basic". Push the boat out for the Muga and be surprised at what you get for £22 (yes, it is one of the more expensive reds on the list!) in a restaurant in central London.

Yes the service can be scatty, but it is quick. The place is often crowded. Book by all means, but expect to be held to your times as, not charging a fortune, they rely on turnover. Or take your chance, turn up at 9pm and wait a while, get a space at the central bar and muck in. Enjoy the guitar music from the guy perched high-up on a precarious stage. Above all? Don't take it too seriously. How can you when two can eat their fill for less than £25, plus wine and a tip?

Sorry Cam and Steve, I think you were simply at the wrong restaurant!

Friday, May 09, 2008
Overall rating 9 stars
Food 9 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 10 | Value for money 10


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