French chefs? They come over here, take our British institutions and, er, improve them.
Claude Bosi, who has won two Michelin stars for his swanky Mayfair joint Hibiscus, has previous gastropub form.
Until February 2010, he ran The Bell Inn in Shropshire with his brother Cedric, who has now relocated to run this slick, metropolitan take on the British boozer.
The room is a delight, with wood panelling, dove grey painted tongue and groove and artfully mismatched furniture.
Apart from some bar stools
, the room is given over to dining but still manages to retain the feel of a local.
Pints are quaffed with the generously sized ploughman’s platters and families with buggies the size of a Reliant Robin sit next to ladies who lunch and lone diners with laptops.
However, our lunch gets off to a bad start.
There’s no worse feeling than walking into a restaurant only to be met by the stony glare of an immobile waitress from across the room.
I’m forced to break the Mexican standoff and we’re eventually led, fuming, to a roomy circular table which partly makes up for the initial lack of hospitality.
The food careens from utterly wonderful to completely woeful.
Scotch eggs have become a bar snack cliché but when they’re as historically good as chef Patrick Leano’s (formerly sous chef at Hibiscus), who cares?
Presented on mini wooden chopping boards and easily big enough for two to share, the egg with still-runny yolk is encased in peppery wild boar sausage meat and a crisp crumb.
The pork scratchings are crisp, too, and so clean tasting that you could kid yourself they’d never been near a deep fat fryer.
With a menu that includes a burger and brown ale-battered hake and chips, it’s clear that Bosi understands pub food.
But a vibrant and silky smooth wild garlic and potato soup served with buttery chopped snails on toast is Michelin-style cooking of the highest order, while some of the first English asparagus of the season gets a classy accompaniment of smoked hollandaise and pink grapefruit.
But there is a slew of under-performing mains.
Confit rabbit leg is dry, perhaps from spending too long under the grill while its crumb coating was browned, but the accompanying pea stew with its blobs of lemon and wasabi gel is delicious.
There’s not enough shrimp and caper butter to raise a perfectly pleasant roasted Cornish lemon sole above the ordinary; cauliflower and broad bean risotto is overcooked; a bavette steak with buttered green beans and Béarnaise sauce is declared ‘the worst I’ve ever had’ by my meat-loving son.
Worst of all, they appear to have forgotten to add the custard to the bread-and-butter pudding and the dry layers of bread and fruit go uneaten.
The smile our waitress finally breaks into when we pay the bill can’t make up for the general lack of warmth and engagement from the four-strong front-of-house team.
The Bosi brothers are within a fox’s whisker of cracking the gastropub formula but more of their Gallic charm would go a long way to making this welcome addition to the London scene perfect.
Author: ZheJiang QiangSheng Furniture Co., Ltd.
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