Where to go pre-theatre often poses a problem, but last week I went back – probably 20 years since my last visit – to Joe Allen. Everything was familiar yet different.
My theatrical outing started with a plush, red, drawn back curtain opening on to a warmly lit room. It is softened with a golden glow yet now it has been ‘zhuzhed’ and everything looks sharper and smarter.
Before the menu even arrived, I was overcome with a longing for a hamburger. I read over the menu – it wasn’t there. Disappointment began to creep in. The waiter sauntered over. Huge black-rimmed glasses. Brains from Thunderbirds sporting a Salvador Dali moustache. (Everyone working here is a resting actor, dahling.) I asked if I’d missed the hamburger on the menu? “No.” “But can I have one?” “Yes. But I’ll have to call over… Someone Who Deals With This.”
To the table’s astonishment, a second waiter was brought over to explain, with obviously well-rehearsed patience, that it was Joe Allen’s ‘Big Secret’. There really was a hamburger in the house, but it wasn’t on the menu and has to be requested. I could already hear my dear old Dad’s words the next day, “This? This you call a secret? A hamboyger? Feh! Keep your great restaurant secret shmecret.”
The food was so good. Not just averagely good, but up there with all the other great hamburgers of my life good. In a brioche bun. Accompanied by crunchy and fluffy frites. Other favourite dishes included beautifully cooked calves’ liver and creamy mashed potatoes, perfectly spiced chilli con carne with guacamole, mac and cheese. For dessert, my companion had baked plums, faintly spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, while I had one of the best pecan pies of my life.
Little-known fact – apparently Graham Norton was once a waiter at Joe Allen.
by Debra Lewis Henry
13 Exeter Street, London WC2E 7DT
t: 020 7836 0651
New Place in Town
Not exactly new – but a totally new look! To celebrate its impending 20th birthday, the iconic Bluebird on the King’s Road has given its first-floor restaurant and bar a complete revamp. It’s light, bright and wonderfully spacious, with a stunning central bar and trees, plants and wild flowers creating an indoor/outdoor exotic garden feel right in the middle of Chelsea.
New head chef Liam Smith-Laing has modernised the menu, neatly peppering it with small plates (bringing it into line with almost every other menu in London). His view is that this reflects that fact that Bluebird is such a great place to socialise.
There is an extensive and inventive cocktail list, with prices starting at a relatively modest (considering the location) £10, while the menu is divided into snacks, small plates, pasta/vegetarian, fish, meat and grill. We started with crispy duck salad and BBQ quail with guacamole and steak tartare, followed by charred Cornish mackerel with borlotti beans (me) and tender daube of beef (him). Desserts are good value at £6 and include spiced apple crumble or hot molten chocolate with a crunchy pecan topping and milk ice cream.
**Re-opening offer: 20 percent off total bill at lunch until the end of October.
Little-known fact – between being a garage (built in 1923) and a restaurant (since 1997), the Bluebird building has housed an ambulance station and a fashion market.
350 King’s Road,
London SW3 5UU
t: 020 7559 1000
On the side..
Winner Takes All
Jason Atherton can’t put a foot wrong. The Waitrose Good Food Guide ranked Pollen Street Social number four in the UK, and also named it ‘Best Front of House’. At the AA Awards, his newest opening, Sosharu, garnered ‘London Restaurant of the Year’, while Pollen Street Social was awarded five AA Rosettes. Meanwhile, Pollen Street Social, City Social and Social Eating House have all retained their Michelin stars this year.
The much-loved Chez Bob of Belsize Park has just opened a second branch in Whetstone, which is now positively bursting with restaurant choices. Diners who have already been to the modern bistro report favourably on the wide menu, friendly and efficient staff, comfy seating and the tasty food.
Pecking Order in Stanmore has signed a deal with Barnet Football Club to take over the food and beverage offering and will be setting up a restaurant there by the end of the year. I have also had a sneak peek at their festive menu – it’s great value with a main, a side and a dessert for £16.95. This will be available from late November.
Dominique Ansell is the New York baker who invented the much-lauded ‘Cronut’ – a hybrid of the croissant and the donut. Now he has brought his famous bakery to London, opening in Belgravia last month. The bakery and pastry kitchens are open for all to see and there are high top tables, banquettes and a courtyard!