All reader reviews by The lady that lunches

Amba Bar & Grill

I took advantage of a special offer to go for afternoon tea at the Mayfair Hotel with my mother (visiting from France) and son.

The first think I should say is that the restaurant area in which we were served could be a lot airier: the blinds were down, and the leather and 1970s orange decor did not help.

The service was attentive, but I wish I could write the same of the food preparation. The tea list was a very standard affair, and the actual tea served was equally unremarkable. The Earl Grey bag in my large teapot was stewing with its label still attached and in the water. Ahem.

The sandwiches were good - the Montgomery cheddar with apple deserves a special mention. The scones and cream were fresh and fragrant. A sort of millefeuille with hazelnut paste was both original and tasty.

And there the praise stops. The fruit cake was overcooked. Had it not been so it would probably have been very nice. The génoise aux cassis (mousse-type cake with blackcurrants) had no taste whatsoever. The trifle was OK if you like that sort of thing - the fact that I do not is to blame on my French upbringing... The topping of the chocolate cake obviously contained gelatine, which helped neither its taste nor its texture. I wonder what kind of chef patissier would have recourse to gelatine when a ganache would do, unless of course the cakes are expected to withstand a very long wait before being served, which prompts even more questions. The chocolate coating inside the pastry on the bilberry tartlet obliterated the taste of the fruit filling completely.

Overall verdict: the pastries were way too 'chichi' for their own good. In my view the Amba Bar ought to stick to tried and tested British delicacies. And boy was I pleased to have had a discount. At £19.50 per person full price, it would definitely not have been worth the money.

Saturday, May 01, 2010
Overall rating 4 stars
Food 3 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 4 | Value for money 3


Sway

I went to Sway for the first and the last time on 15 December for a work Christmas lunch. The upstairs part looks like it could have been a musical hall or a cinema, and could be nice. Instead, there is a very seedy air about it.

The service is indifferent to everything except trying to sneak more bottles of wine onto your table. The food was not good: two anaemic slices of smoked salmon on stale bread, sirloin cooked medium or else (!!!), and a minuscule Christmas pudding for dessert. How much did I pay? £25? That was way too much. Coffee was not even included... Oh, and they did not have Christmas crackers for everyone.

One to avoid.

Saturday, December 19, 2009
Overall rating 1 stars
Food 0 | Service 2 | Atmosphere 0 | Value for money 0


Terrace Grill & Bar

I went to the Terrace Restaurant with a business contact last week. I had booked in advance, but when I caught up with my guest at reception, there was no sign of my booking (only the second time this happens to me in a fortnight... sigh).

However, the matter was soon settled, as only three tables were full. I chose a table near the window. This proved foolish: in the daytime you only really get a view of the offices opposite and the tops of double deckers in Regent Street below, and more importantly it was frrrrreeeezing cold. The place is airy and elegant - if you go, avoid direct proximity to the windows at least in winter.

The service was attentive and unhurried. The bread we were given to wait while our food was being prepared could have been fresher - not a very good sign, I though. We ordered a la carte, and went straight for mains. My venison ragout (slow cooked meat with thick green tagliatelli) was flavoursome, of a little over-salted. My guest's rib eye steak met with his approval. The side vegetables were good - fresh and perfectly cooked.

Foe dessert, I had a nice crumble, and my guest went for a strawberry mousse which he seemed happy with.

Overall, the food was good, though nothing very special. You pay for the atmosphere and the location, and for these you pay handsomely: £5.00 for a bottle of water, £9.50 for a gin and tonic, £18 for mains. £40 a head for two courses, drinks, coffee and service is not exactly stunning value.

Still, they do cream teas for £9 per head, and I will definitely try that with my mother - it's the right kind of place for it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009
Overall rating 5 stars
Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 5 | Value for money 3


Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

3 December, 18:15 - phone call from one of my party of 7 who had just arrived at the restaurant: "they cannot find your reservation". My worst nightmare has just started, I thought. You take colleagues out as a treat and things go sour from the start... What happened next, I shall never know, but they did find us a table. Maybe they did find the booking. Maybe they had space anyway, or perhaps they pushed some punters away.

When we arrived, we were ushered through the narrow part of this L-shape restaurant to the back room. The last diner to arrive had to be rescued by her husband - she had forgotten the booking name and the staff did not want to let her in (a bit weird...). By the time we left, the restaurant was totally full, but we never felt squashed. From a Belle Epoque bistrot, Galvin has retained the dark wood paneling, simple furniture and unfussy but elegant place settings. And some of the food.

The wine list is extensive, and the Maitre D' knows what he is doing (but then he is from Bordeaux, so you would expect no less). He recommended a lovely Cheverny (Loire, white, flowery without being overbearing), and a Vacqueyras (Cotes du Rhone, red) which became more tannic as the bottle went down. It had a Bordeaux-like acidity which I personally did not like. To hell with those Southerners, I should have stuck to Burgundy...

When the starters arrived, my first reaction was: "oh dear, nouvelle cuisine" - small and chichi. This proved not to be the case, except for one: the endive, walnut, pear and beetroot salad looked beautiful, but had minimal nutritional value. The salmon gravadlax was pronounced tasty, I failed to enquire about the rillette (a good French traditional dish if I ever saw one), and my own crab lasagna was perfectly done, given how delicate and prone to getting lost among other ingredients the flavour of crab can be.

There was nothing "nouvelle cuisine" about the mains, which were hearty, and met with general approval, except (again) from the vegetarians. Their onion tarte tatin with St Maure cheese bode well, but my husband commented that the protein content was inadequate, and the portion size also left to be desired. Veggies, you should not be afraid of ordering a vegetable side dish.

For the fish and meat eaters however, Galvin cooks up real treats: perfectly cooked haddock (the bed of red pepper and onion could have been more original, but it did not distract from the fish) and seabass, a saddle of lamb with spinach and chestnut stuffing which was greatly praised, and - if you go DO NOT MISS THIS - a daube of venison which I can only describe as heavenly. The cranberry sauce was a gorgeous syrupy concoction which complemented to perfection the strongly-flavoured but very tender meat. The celeriac mash that came with it was a miracle of lightness. I am still salivating just writing about it. 10 out of 10.

The people who chose raspberry souffle for dessert were very happy with the light and flavoursome result, which was much less sweet than could have been feared. The cheese selection was wide ranging and came with some lovely raisin bread. The quality of the other desserts varied. The friend who chose the chocolate fondant wished it was slightly more bitter. The pear tarte tatin had a beautifully buttery pastry, and the pears were OK, but the caramel had a colour and texture which suggested that it had been added after the tart was baked (and was made with milk or cream, as well as the butter which is the normal part of the recipe). The same kind of afterthought affected my baba au rhum. It was both big and heavy. I could have coped with the texture if the baba had been half as small. The other problem was that it tasted like it had been moistened with a light sugar syrup with no rum in it. With a flourish, a waiter split the baba in half and poured rum onto it. Now, that is not the idea! It had no time to soak!

Still, the service was attentive and unhurried, and for £55 a head for 2 bottles of wine, a round of drinks, three courses, coffee and service, on Baker Street, this is very good value. Will I be back? Yes. This is a classy joint, and I only pick holes in the offering because I am a cook, and an ultra-pernickety French foodie.

Sunday, December 06, 2009
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 7 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 7


Beyoglu

On a summer evening, the glass windows of the Beyoglu restaurant get opened wide, making you feel you really are in a Mediterranean restaurant on a quiet street! It's nicely decorated and the dining room is fairly small, which makes it quite intimate.

I joined a couple of friends and my husband there, shamefully late, but the staff were very accommodating. Excellent fresh bread and nice mezze, followed by a flavoursome baked aubergine main. My husband's artichoke hearts with vegetables was less than convincing though: the whole thing felt like it was straight out of a tin. The artichoke was over-salted, and the filling really looked like pressed tinned mixed vegetables (sweetcorn, peas and bits of carrots). A total misjudgement on the chef's part. However, the meat-eaters among us were very happy with what looked like perfectly cooked lamb on a skewer (it smelled nice too).

For dessert, my husband had yogurt and honey (can do this at home!) and I had an OK but not unforgettable vanilla ice cream with nuts and chocolate sauce.

Prices are reasonable. Three courses, wine and coffee for 4 people came to £86.

We may go back, but vegetarians beware: there is only one main course worth eating; keep away from those artichokes!

Thursday, September 03, 2009
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 5 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 5


The Morpeth Arms

Seven of us went to The Morpeth Arms for lunch yesterday. The upstairs dining room is not very large, but it is furnished with a mixture of elegance and rusticity that brings to mind the studied shabby chic of Paradise by Way of Kensal Green in NW10. With views of the Thames, this makes for a relaxed atmosphere.

We liked the menu: there are choices ranging from soup and bread for £5 to beef rump steak for a tenner. I had one of the day's specials: sea bass on a spinach and asparagus risotto (£7.95). The portion was generous, the fish nicely done and the risotto heavenly: it had the right balance between the nicely creamy and cheesy rice and the crisper vegetables. We followed this with pudding (all at £4.95) - a friend and I shared our sticky toffee pudding (delicious) and chocolate fudge cake (a cut above what I was expecting: rich moist and obviously made by the chef rather than bought in). It was the last slice. And came with a strong recommendation from the waitress. No wonder.

Friendly and fast service - we will be back!

Thursday, September 03, 2009
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 8


Al-Dar

Went there with my husband for a quick bite before a movie at Odeon Marble Arch.

I should have followed my instinct and we should have left immediately. Sour waiter, dining area in DIRE need of refurbishment, bland mezze, super salty aubergine dish.

And £23 for two for two mains and a side dish.

Never again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Overall rating 1 stars
Food 1 | Service 1 | Atmosphere 1 | Value for money 0


Swan at the Globe

This was my fourth visit to the Globe, and the first shock was caused by the refurbishment. The place now looks more contemporary, with design chairs and square wooden tables. No longer quaint, not really elegant.

But the food was as good as ever, and at £25 per person including mains, dessert, coffees and non-alcoholic drinks, this is still excellent value for money. The roast beef was succulent and the trout perfectly judged. The sorbets were declared very tasty, and my own honey comb ice cream was luxuriously creamy, with a full flavour. It's a pity that the chocolate terrine which it accompanied was not colder - it could happily be frozen, and I have to deplore (again) the habit of flavouring what I suspect to be poor quality (ie bitter) couverture with alcohol. It spoils it.

If I could change one thing about the Globe, i think it would be the service: perfect when you want to laze around, appaling if you want to get a move on. Manager: please get a grip! What are the front of house staff doing hiding in the kitchen?

Friday, June 22, 2007
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 7 | Service 4 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 7


Baltic

I went to Baltic with a group of 10 friends on a recommendation.

The space was nice and airy (better than web picture), the service relatively quick, and the staff friendly.

My starter was pierogi - cheese and leeks filling in ravioli-shaped batter - quite tasty but not terribly sophisticated. Another diner's "slightly soggy black pudding with slightly pickled red cabbage" was rated excellent. Nice smoked eel salad, lovely roasted beetroot (if you like beetroot) with carrot crisps and sour cream.

For mains, the goulash was served out of hot Le Creuset dish, making the whole table salivate. It seems that Baltic knows how to do fish: both the hake and the sea bream received plaudits from the table. My koulibiak portion(salmon and bulgur wheat salad in pastry) was huge and tasty, as was the shashlik lamb.

We ordered side dishes of perfectly al dente courgettes and red cabagge like my grandmother used to cook it (and this is praise indeed coming from me!) However, the grated carrots dressed with an alcoholic mixture and caraway seed were promply discarded by all. I still do not know whether to blame the freshness of the vegetables or the seasonings, but the result was vile.

The evening ended with disappointment all round on the pudding side. The sour cherry and vodka ice cream didn't have the expected kick - indeed, it did not have any kick at all - and neither did the sour cherry crème brulée. Cherry yes, but where had the soureness gone?

Huge portions, nice food but not exceptional. The bill was £45 pp including aperitif and wine.

The jury is still out.

Friday, June 22, 2007
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 6 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 6


Texas Embassy Cantina

Worst food I have had in months!

I went there with 3 friends. The steak of one arrived looking like charcoal (to their credit they took it back without fuss). My cheese enchillada was filled with something orange, plastic and tasteless.

Unappetising range of desserts.

Service indifferent.

Cheap-ish, but not worth the money.

Don't go there unless desperate.

Friday, June 22, 2007
Overall rating 3 stars
Food 2 | Service 4 | Atmosphere 2 | Value for money 2


Texas Embassy Cantina

This is probably the worst food I have had in months. And the waiters are not what you'd call attentive.

Cheese enchilladas tasting (and looking) like melted plastic, unappetising desserts... One of our group of four had to send back a steak that was burnt (to their credit, the staff did not make a fuss).

Not very expensive but not worth the bother... unless you are truly desperate.

Monday, June 18, 2007
Overall rating 3 stars
Food 2 | Service 4 | Atmosphere 3 | Value for money 3


Baltic

I went to Baltic with a group of 10 friends on a recommendation.

The space was nice and airy (better than web picture), the service relatively quick, and the staff friendly.

My starter was pierogi - cheese and leeks filling in ravioli-shaped batter - quite tasty but not terribly sophisticated. Another diner's "slightly soggy black pudding with slightly pickled red cabbage" was rated excellent. Nice smoked eel salad, lovely roasted beetroot (if you like beetroot) with carrot crisps and sour cream.

For mains, the goulash was served out of hot Le Creuset dish, making the whole table salivate. It seems that Baltic knows how to do fish: both the hake and the sea bream received plaudits from the table. My koulibiak portion(salmon and bulgur wheat salad in pastry) was huge and tasty, as was the shashlik lamb.

We ordered side dishes of perfectly al dente courgettes and red cabagge like my grandmother used to cook it (and this is praise indeed coming from me!) However, the grated carrots dressed with an alcoholic mixture and caraway seed were promply discarded by all. I still do not know whether to blame the freshness of the vegetables or the seasonings, but the result was vile.

The evening ended with disappointment all round on the pudding side. The sour cherry and vodka ice cream didn't have the expected kick - indeed, it did not have any kick at all - and neither did the sour cherry crème brulée. Cherry yes, but where had the soureness gone?

Huge portions, nice food but not exceptional. At £45 pp including aperitif and wine, the jury is still out.

Monday, June 18, 2007
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 6 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 6 | Value for money 6


The Gate (Hammersmith)

Hubby and I wanted somewehere a bit special and very vegetarian for our wedding anniversary. We spotted The Gate listed in the Guardian on world vegetarian day, and promptly checked this site out for a better feel of what other diners thought. "Worth trying out" was our conclusion, and well worth trying out it was too.

The décor is minimalist, the staff friendly and fast, there is a huge and very interesting painting of a factory workers' meeting on the wall. The floor space is quite cramped but very high ceiling and enormous window make it feel ample and airy. True, the toilets are out of keeping with the restaurant, but the smell will be quite familiar to anyone with experience of using parish church toilet s(the restaurant shares a building with a church).

For a good introduction to the chef's range, try the Meze platter as a starter. It included a gorgeous sweet and sour indian potato cake, courgette flowers in beer batter that were crispy, delicate and tasty, nice falafel (but shame about the smoky guacamole which disguised the rest of the flavours). By the time I tried the dolcelatte, pesto and courgette quiche, the spices had blunted my palate slightly - so go for that first. The Thai salad combines the bite of chilli sauce, crisp texture of baby sweetcorn, and pak choi, and the oily munchiness of peanuts. Amazing. In comparison with all this the Ceasar salad was disappointing, and suffered from unripe avocado.

Overall, the attention paid to retaining individual flavours in combinations deserves high praise, and it follows the "Gordon Ramsay rule No.3": no more than 3 or 4 are blended in any one dish.

Our mains was a creamy but oversalted risotto with beans, peas, mint and asparagus.

For dessert, we had pressed chocolate cake cake, rich but nor bitter - in other words, pretty perfect - with a tasty fruit compote and fresh red fruit (though where they came from in this season I dread to think). My husband's hazelnut creme brulee with small bits of nuts was excellent.

At £63 for two (including service but with no alcohol), this is not cheap, but the inventiveness of the menu will keep us coming back.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 7 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 7


Cafe des Amis

I had been to Café dea Amis for the first time in 1996, and had been underwhelmed by the food then. However, Nick's recent review on this site persuaded me to give it another go.

So I went there with a group of 9 people a few weeks ago. It did not feel cramped. The service was prompt, attentive and smiley. Some of us ordered a la carte; others took advantage of the fixed menu (£17.95 for 2 courses). The varied menu will satisfy all except non-fish eating vegetarians, for whom options are very limited.

First courses were simple affairs. My tartlet was a thin layer of flaky pastry with thin slices of tomatoes, parmesan and rocket. Nice enough, but nothing unforgettable.

The meaty main courses - lamb shank, steak and chicken leg- were all pronounced beautiful. My monkfish on a bed of spinach was slightly undercooked. Many of us could not resist trying the 'tripple-cooked chips', a very crispy version of your local chippy's fayre, first boiled, sealed in oil, and then deep fried. Good for sheer entertainment value.

Readers might be delighted to learn that the chocolate soup so highly praised by reviewers on this site is still on the menu. What is more, it fulfilled all its promises: creamy, rich, nice contrast with the vanilla and black pepper ice cream. Chocoholics heaven. Long may it remain available.

The dinner set us back £40 per person for 3 courses and drinks. Given the very central location, this is decent value for money.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Overall rating 7 stars
Food 7 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 7


Brasserie Roux

I am afraid I have to agree with the more negative end of the review spectrum.

I went to Brasserie Roux for lunch last week with a colleague, and was sorely disappointed. The décor is OK, but the fact they have a 'water menu' (I kid you not) suggested pretentiousness rather than love of food.

With an eye on the desserts, we passed on the opportunity to have starters. We both had what was described as 'seabass with fennel en croûte' and tomato sauce, fully expecting half a fennel in some kind of pastry. Alas, no. It was the undercooked and oversalted seabass that came in chinese-style batter, on a tiny bed of sautéed fennel strips. If I had been in different company I would have sent the whole lot back, and called for a Gordon Ramsay-type intervention in the kitchen (and on the menu writer, who needs grammar lessons).

As for the dessert, the much-awaited chocolate truffle tart was too sweet and not flavoursome enough. I suppose its saving grace was that it contained neither alcohol nore gelatine.

Service was indifferent.

Would not recommend.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Overall rating 4 stars
Food 2 | Service 4 | Atmosphere 5 | Value for money 3


Swan at the Globe

I went to the Globe for the second time on 7 December with a group of 8 friends, having been very impressed on a dinner à deux with my husband a few weeks earlier.

The restaurant was reasonably quiet, and the jazz music makes for a relaxed atmosphere. Best of all is the riverside view, with the various churches (including St Paul) well illuminated. Perfect for a night out with your significant other!

The Christmas menu was already on, and £30 for three courses and coffee proved very reasonable. The meal starts with a selection of delicious fresh homemade bread, and it just gets better. The stuffed turkey was moist and tasty, the vegetarian raviolis with mushroom perfectly judged, and all commented very positively on their respective choices.

My only reservation was my chosen dessert. The 'Chocolate pecan pie' was all pecan and sugar. Where they had hidden the chocolate I have no idea. That said, my first experience of the pastry chef suggests that this is not a common occurence: both the chocolate torte and the summer pudding were sophisticated and luxurious.

The service is good, though a bit slow. They were very accommodating when the last of our party turned up late.

In summary, I thoroughly recommend this restaurant.

Sunday, January 08, 2006
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 8 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 8


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