01 December 2006
I thought the only Conran restaurant worth going to was Plateau in Canary Wharf, but after last night have had to revise my ideas.
It was the service that really stood out. They managed that balance of being totally attentive and well drilled, without appearing formal or imposing. Hungerpang mentioned to one waiter that he would move to drinking red wine, and was instantly supplied with a clean glass by another waiter. The room was pleasant, perhaps a little draughty, but the view of Tower Bridge obscured by heavy scaffolding. We (eight of us) were pleased to be seated at a round table, which is much more fun for a sociable group.
The menu had a confusing layout - fairly typical Conran - so you could easily miss some of the main courses on offer. It was hearty British fare, with a special seasonal emphasis on game. The breads were excellent, and not particularly gimmicky or Italian. I chose game broth, a richly flavoured consommé with mushrooms and parsley. Others tried lambs kidneys on toast, smoked salmon, game terrine and potted shrimps. No-one tried any of the oysters on offer. For main course, the steak and kidney pudding appealed most to me. It came coated in gravy, so I couldn't tell if they'd achieved the elusive crisp crust, but not enough gravy to last me to the end. Portions are generous here, and I couldn't finish the pudding. Other things tried were fish and chips, venison shank, mushroom tartlet, pheasant with red cabbage. All were traditionally flavoured, pretty good, but no better than you could achieve at home with a little patience. Only 2 of us had space for afters, both opting for the bread-and-butter pudding, though angels on horseback attracted interest. The bread and butter pudding was huge! Fully a 5-inch cube of dense bread and custard. Hungerpang managed about 2/3rds of his (with a tablespoonful to me), but our friend could only manage a pathetic quantity. We all had coffee, which came with a few little chocolate petit fours of unimpeachable quality.
The thing I really didn't like about this place with its jolly atmosphere (a bit too loud, perhaps) was the prices of the wines. In trying to find something under £40 pound a bottle, you could look through several sections without joy. I repeatedly had to rebuff the somelier's recommendations with a "no, that's out of our price range", and really struggled to find 4 bottles to drink. We had an Argentinian Malbec called Clos de los Siete (£36), a couple of bottles of Rioja Marques de Riscal 2002 (£29.75), a Portuguese Douro wine called Quinta de la Rosa (£29.95), and a white Verdejo, Jose Pariente from Rueda in Spain for £25.75. These are almost the only wines under £30 on the list.
The bill came to £73.50 per person, which was a good effort on our part in contrast with the previous trip to Gaucho Grill, which tallied up to over £90 a head.