All reader reviews by Mango

Electric Brasserie

Mmmh, the Electric. Everybody knows about it. Itís famous in West London and certainly popular as evidenced by the perpetual wait for a table and/or the packed handful of tables outside in the summer. A generation ago, perhaps more, fame was a consequence of underlying merit or achievement rather than a destination in itself. Social historians point to George Best as one of the early proponents (or victims) of the cult of celebrity. In search of an epitaph, George Best expressed a hope from behind his white wine glass that he would be remembered for his football. Good lord, George, of course you will be. You had nothing else to show for yourself once the din of the crowd had died down.

Thereís plenty of crowd noise in the Electric when entering the Portobello Road establishment. The Notting Hill demographic has entered a stage of confusion. Long term residents attracted to its hip, media and trustafarian reputation of ten years ago find themselves with not just one but two infants in their care. Desperate to hold onto their perception of self as cocktail swilling twenty somethings rather than latte stirring thirty somethings, yet they find themselves heading to the Electric for brunch rather than the Notting Hill Brassiere for dinner.

I have no truck with the presence of infants at the Electric, although I might if I was at the Notting Hill Brassiere for dinner. Brunch is easier. Itís easier for parents and infants. Itís also easier for chefs and waiters, and a barnstorming festival for food profit margins. Eggs and breads, bacons and coffees all cost a fraction of the cost they are served at. A restaurants accountant would salivate at the gross margin, if not the flavour.

Our most recent visit was on Boxing Day for breakfast. Having consumed colossal volumes of food over the previous week, my critical facilities were finely honed. The food was fine. Eggs Benedict were slightly overcooked, and the accompanying mushrooms were Liverpudlian (ie, nothing wrong with them, but not amazing either). Coffees met expectations set by the price and if there was a standout, my friendís blueberry pancakes took out that honour on appearance and aroma alone. The food, I can say, is good. Not greatÖyou know, like George Best, but good nonetheless.

The service was fine - this time. There was even the manager hovering around, genuinely trying to please the tables he personally waited on. Service is, however, tested during the time you are not being waited on. On the two or three occasions Iíve been here before, the service has been spasmodic and occasionally disdainful. Hopefully things have improved. After all, poor service is something no restaurant wants to be famous for.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Overall rating 6 stars
Food 6 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 6

The French House

I donít often eat out in Soho. When I do eat out there, I realise why. Sohoís mostly awful. Thereís so much activity yet so little going on. Itís true. Go into a bar or pub around 10.30pm and youíll see what I mean. It will be full of people from the outer tube line areas, all dressed up, pissed up and fired up for something to happen. Problem is that most of the time theyíll crawl back out the tube lines disappointed, or alternatively get involved in a drunken brawl over a taxi. For some thatís a good night out, but for me it is predictable and broadly unfulfilling.

Hereís a challenge. Try and think of some restaurants in Soho that you really want to go to. Still trying? I thought so. There arenít many, or at least, I donít think so. I wanted to try the French House because someone suggested it was a bit like Andrew Edmunds, which makes it a restaurant in Soho with undoubted allure.

Apparently the French Resistanceís London leadership met here during WW2, but god knows what the point of that was. How much resisting can you do over a bottle of wine and 30 Gaulloise cigarettes in Dean St? The most resistance we encountered was getting in. By that I donít mean getting a reservation, although keep in mind there are only 25 or so covers, so donít be shy about dialling early in the week. We struggled to get in the front door itself, blocked as it was by two enormous deaf drunks, who had to be physically alerted to our presence before they allowed us through. Perhaps something or someone exciting was in the bar downstairs, and this being Soho they were determined not to let it out.

Upstairs was almost empty at 8pm, but this didnít last long being a Saturday night. The dťcor is dark, with a sort of mock, gloss, leopard-skin wallpaper on the ceiling and a dimly lit burgundy feel to the rest of the room. Itís cosy and warm, as any small space becomes when filled with people. Itís a pleasant room to be in.

Letís deal with the food and service first, then get on to the interesting bits. Entrťe scallops were good, with a tasty covering of breadcrumbs and herbs. The chateaubriand was terrific, really very good. Soft, juicy Ė no, not just juicy, rather absolutely saturated in jus- and served simply and well. The accompanying spinach was good but could be better by simply being hotter than it was when it arrived. We drank a French Bordeaux, which was lovely and about £16. Ticks in most of the right boxes here.

However, it was everything else that went on around us that proved most entertaining. The German woman next to us didnít draw breath for 2 hours, but managed to spill wine all over her dining companions during that time. A couple poked their head through the door asking ďDo you have room for six people?Ē When told that there was only a two person table free, they promptly dumped the other four people and sat down to dinner in a most non-fussed manner. The waiter spent the early part of the evening flirting with the waitress, then they both disappeared into a private room for a period before emerging looking pleased with themselves. The waiter then spent the rest of the evening with his hand on her bottom.

None of this is criticism. On the contrary, itís the sort of activity that makes dining out a good night out. So if you head to Soho, ready to fight through crowded pavements to get to your destination, then come here. Thereís something happening, and itís worth the long slog home to experience it.

Monday, December 05, 2005
Overall rating 8 stars
Food 7 | Service 7 | Atmosphere 8 | Value for money 8

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