Andrew Edmunds

This last ten days has felt a violent ten days for London.  First of all, there was the heretic-burning issue of Guy Fawkes night, the fireworks of which I was lucky enough to see from an aeroplane.  The air is full of the scent of explosive powder and dead leaves.  Then, as if to add insult to being blown up, there was the padded and somewhat highly-strung tone of Remembrance Sunday.  On my default radio station, Absolute Radio 90s, they marked the two minutes of silence by producing what sounded like two minutes of traffic.  Therefore, those of us listening to the radio would know the radio station was actually working and our digital radios weren’t broken.  However, the decision to have two minutes of some noise in order to mark two minutes of silence appeared somewhat counter-productive.  After that, AbsoluteRadio 90s pulled us back into their pre-Blair era nostalgia orbit by playing U2’s “One”.  This was an odd choice; perhaps it would have been better to have a song called “Eleven”, or “Eleven A.M., Eleven, Eleven”.

On arrival back in England, Mr Bluebird and I had dinner at Andrew Edmunds, in Lexington Street.  There is a strangeness to my discovery of Andrew Edmunds.  The previous Tuesday, I had been walking down Lexington Street, enjoying its feature of four excellent restaurants  – Cafe Mildred, Aurora, the Catalan-inspired Fernandez & Wells and the startlingly charming  (as yet untried by me) delicate French cafe of Cafe Gourmand – when my eyes were drawn by something that was about 250 years old.  Andrew Edmunds is a print and art shop, and next door, the tiniest restaurant in Soho.  Its walls are as bruised and brown as if they have been steeped in English Breakfast tea.  But there the Englishness seems to end.  There is a dark, painted door jostling against two tiny dark painted window frames and within a cluttered smattering of dripping candles and tiny wee tables topped with small jugs of wild flowers, all of which screams Parisienne.   The whole front of the restaurant cannot be more than 10 feet, its tiny-ness adding to the slightly unreal, magical feel of the place, as if fairies had placed it there during the night which, given the fact it’s been there since 1988 and I hadn’t spotted it before, could be quite possible.  The menu, which seems to change daily, looked brisk and filling, in a good, solid, old-fashioned way from inside its glass frame to the right of the front door.  It seemed sure of itself.  A menu that is sure of itself makes the customer feel just as sure, and before I knew what I was doing, me – little old – read-50-reviews-on-Trip-Advisor-before-you-go-near-the-place me,  had walked in and booked a table for a week ahead. 

Lexington Street holds itself up as the new, innovative dining centre of Soho.  Whilst Greek and Frith and Dean Streets take the focus and a lot of the glamour, Lexington Street is really where it’s at.   After 7pm you cannot move in any of the four bars / eateries mentioned above.  Mildred’s, at No 45, has been serving inspiring vegetarian food since the late 80s and is still going very strong, but Fernandez & Wells has to be my personal favourite.  I love its pared-back, washed wall feel.  It’s a Barcelona-style wine and tapas bar with simple grandeur.  It’s a restaurant with the bricks peeled back, and if you’re lucky enough to get a stool at the counter (which, surprisingly, I was) a perfect location for a pre-supper glass of excellent Spanish red.  I only risked being slightly upstaged by the vast, seasonal bowl full of orange and green pumpkins on the countertop.

When I started to mention Andrew Edmunds to people, throughout the week, the replies came back always as “Oh, yes… I know it.  I went there twenty years ago.”  Or, “Oh, yes.  Is it still there?”  I later found out it has been in Lexington Street for twenty five years, and that it is known for its vast and excellent value wine list.   The night we went was one of those nights where London pushes you indoors and away from the elements ; foggy, damp, intolerant.  Ducking into the warmth and eighteenth century prints of Andrew Edmunds had never seemed so appropriate, with the condensation muggily steaming up the windows and November getting the better of us whilst the kitchen served a solid round of traditional foods. 

Our table was in a cosy corner, appropriately enough next to tiny wooden banquette in which two Frenchman were installed, happily lingering over the end of a carafe of something divine and fruit from the Burgundy.  The menu was straightforward – I started with the chicken liver pate with brioche and then had lemon sole with halved, cheery new potatoes and a green salad.  The chicken liver starter was almost enough as a meal in itself.  Is it me, or are starters always the most satisying part of any meal?  Mr Bluebird went for a deeply autumnal warming soup which he pronounced as divine and then headed for a lamb shank, which sat on a bed of mashed potato and swede.  My lemon sole was fabulous, a gutsy, benevolent fish, the lemon sole – although mine appeared to be the biggest from the sea.  It was so big that I couldn’t manage my potatoes, and Mr Bluebird’s lamb shank, which he loved, was also so big that when he announced after 20 minutes of solidly eating it that he had had enough, I struggled to tell from looking at it whether he had eaten anything at all.  Bearing in mind the grand size of the dishes, the price of the food was exceptionally good value.   The half bottles of good French red (in my case) and white (in his) came and went and tasted fabulous.  I’m sorry that I have forgotten what label mine was.  Puddings were as warming and luxurious as you would expect from a traditional English menu.  I went for treacle tart with vanilla ice cream and Mr Bluebird opted for Damson and Sloe Gin ice cream.  His, he announced, tasted as if it came from a three hundred year old recipe, deep with autumn fruits and the sense of seasons much visited over the years.  It was devastatingly purple, but again – he couldn’t find room to finish it.  My treacle tart was a riot of gorgeous, sticky tart-iness, over an inch high and sitting next to a vanilla-flecked round of ice cream but it pains me to say I had to leave some of it on my plate.   The service was light, professional and relaxed.  This is a restaurant that knows exactly what it is doing and exactly how to do it in cosily elegant surroundings.

After the double espresso, which I felt was vital in order to get my heavy, over-fed body to walk to Tottenham Court Road tube station, it was a pleasure to linger in Andrew Edmunds.  There is no music, there is only the low grade hum of other diners on the other seven, small tables around us.  For three courses,each, two half bottles of wine, one cocktail and two double espressos, the total bill, including service, was only £100.  There is something of the warm, old comfort in Andrew Edmunds.  My advice would be go there : go there for a late lunch in order to recover from the hazards of West End Christmas shopping, go there for an intimate supper – but do not order three courses.  Unless you have a gargantuan appetite you will not be able to eat all of them, although the lack of pretension and friendliness in the restaurant tells me that they probably wouldn’t mind if you asked to take some of your pudding home with you.  Do also be aware that bookings are only taken eight days in advance too, a refreshingly biblical number of days but there you go.   This is an old Soho stalwart, one that has taken me too long to discover and one that I hope survives in the changing scenery of Soho for a long time to come.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Boxes and tea

And so, darling readers, did you miss me last week?  I do hope last Thursday wasn’t too much of a disappointing day for you all, as it was the first Thursday this ‘ere bloggery has been unadorned with a flashy write-up since February 2010.  I had a deeply disorientating week, in which I moved house with Mr Bluebird (without the aid of a professional removals company – ill-advised, do not attempt it), inherited a fishpond, argued with a boiler, got tipsy and walked into a bedroom thinking it must be the kitchen and have now arrived at the stage that should I see another box of brown cardboard I will weep and throw it at the wall.  That, of course, is ill-advised too, as these are the first walls I have owned and therefore have a new-found respect for.  Rented walls are treated like slatterns – we pass through them bleary eyed and slightly supercilious, bashing, sliding, leaning and uncaring.  Owned walls are items to be treated with trepidation; objects must be suitably and gently lain upon them.  Minutes later, dusters arrive to soundlessly clean these cream-painted areas recently touched by human hand.

All of which is utter bollocks of course, because I don’t really own the walls, some bank in Yorkshire does.  But I have to keep the walls nice for the  bankers in Yorkshire.  If the walls depreciate then the bankers in Yorkshire will get their money back (when I die) but I won’t have much profit to speak of, not if the walls are covered with bits of spaghetti bolognese.  It’s a deeply enchanting process, going home to a place you actually own after years of renting, but it’s also quite a stupid process.  I had difficulty locating the water meter, before I realised it was in front of me.  And I don’t know one end of the arsey buildings insurance cover from the other.   I am acutely aware that there are holes in my learning.  At some stage in life, some kindly, avuncular figure who cares deeply for you ought to draw you into a velvet-draped corner of their gentlemen’s club, creak back into the aged leather, dump two gulps of brandy into a tumbler with a satisfying gloopy sound and say : “This is how it is.  These are the things you have to do, at some stage, poor, unaware, deliriously inept child.”  Then they would tell you what an endowment policy is, what LTV on mortgages means, how stamp duty is calculated, what the distinction is between a Homebuyers Report and a Standard Lenders Valuation, and generally assure you regarding life assurances. 

But no one does diggity.

No one does nothing.  And you are left, flailing in the shitty waters of your own incompetency, thinking “Oh, rent book…. give me back the rent book.  I know where I am with the rent book.  He is my friend.”

Then I went back to stroking the clean walls of the kitchen again.  Before I realised I wasn’t actually in the kitchen.  Because I still don’t know the way to the kitchen.

At times where belongings are uncertainly dumped in boxes placed in the corners of my peripheral vision, I need to take Evelyn Waugh’s advice and draw “healing draughts from the waters of Edwardian certitude.”   The delirious comfort of the tea-tray called me, rattling along the corridors of life, ready to soothe and placate with splashes of Darjeeling, tidily poured.  A life-affirming, comforting, solid, old-world experience was called for.  Yesterday afternoon, I answered to that deep-rooted desire for all things Edwardian (and cream cakes) and took Mother Bluebird for tea at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair.  It was the first day of spring and Albemarle Street glistened with hopefulness and sunshine.

Brown’s is London’s first ever hotel.  It was founded by Byron’s valet, James Brown (not that one) in 1837 and in 2009 it trumped all other London hotels with the Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea Award.  The expectations therefore, were as high as the price.  Both the Roosevelt American Presidents liked staying here, and in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell popped into the hotel and secured its position in posterity by making the first successful telephone call in England. To Room Service, perhaps.  Basically, it’s 11 Georgian houses meshed together to form a rock-solid bolthole for the internationally wealthy desiring utterly English, utterly understated classic glamour, which now restles smoothly under the Rocco Forte Luxury Hotels banner.  Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book in the English Tea Room.   I didn’t write The Jungle Book there.  I just drafted my blog on the iphone.

Despite the hotel being Georgian houses clubbed together, I was blown away by the Jacobean ceiling of the Tea Room.  I felt that I had been scooted back- soundlessly and brilliantly – to another London ; a London of langour and elegance, of seclusion and money.  The hotel is personal, but smart.  I particularly enjoyed the TripAdvisor comments: “Recently stopped off at Brown’s to celebrate my investiture. We enjoyed a couple of bottles of fizz in The Donovan Bar..!” and class totty like that.  Rocking on up to the hotel yesterday, I was forced to change my footwear in a shop doorway as my shoes were pinching my toes into fat, pink sausages.  This was not very classy.  Browns Hotel exudes restrained politeness.  The old, pale red mosaic of the hotel insignia when it was Browns and St George’s Hotel still remains on the outside wall. 

Americans are terribly fond of Browns.  It sells a particular type of self-effacing Englishness.  I think of Browns as a “Hello, Charles!” sort of hotel.  You know in the first scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral, when Charles, our loveable and tardy hero, arrives at the first wedding in deepest Devon and rushes past the bridal party?  The bride, debecked in Fulham flounces and due to marry a landowner with a receding hairline called Angus, glances breezily over a horsey shoulder and chirrups “Hello, Charles!”.  Well,  Browns is full of wide-eyed SW10 girls who have attended inferior public schools and who are constantly saying “Hello, Charles!” to somebody.  Because everyone in their circle is called Charles.   Even some of the women.  The tea room is haltingly smart, and immediately reminded me of the neo-Georgian wooden panelling of our headmistress’s study.  An effusive waiter, sparkly eyed and slightly theatrical, in a suit clearly two sizes too big for him, ushered us to our table, where the chairs were bolted to the floor and designed to swivel about.  This was slightly peculiar.  I kept trying to draw the chair tighter towards the table but of course it was bolted down and immediately swerved in a little circle towards the right instead, nearly depositing me onto the lap of a Japanese woman at the next table.   The waiters were fabulously attentive, explaining the varieties of the 20 different leaf teas on offer, and easily accommodating vegetarian preferences.  The strange thing was, tea is charged per head, not per tea.  We therefore ordered two set afternoon teas, but although two sets of sandwiches soon arrived, there was clearly not patisserie on our sterling silver tray for two people.

The scones were a delight.  Sweet, slightly crisp and served with generous bowls of clotted cream and real fruit jam.  The jam was tart rather than over sweet.  Five small scones soon disappeared, and were replaced with five more.  The tea was excellent – I had second flush Darjeeling – and served in silver service that seemed to remain hot for an age.  The pianist was rippling away on a baby grand behind us, going through the usual repetoire to accompany tea for two (like the song Tea for Two and, dreadfully, something from Chess : The Musical).  Requests for soya milk and extra hot water came quickly, in the hush of pinstriped excellent service.  One waiter was particularly helpful with a broken digital camera.  I resisted the urge, when the bill came, to fill in the section on the bill charging “Room Number” and pretend I’d just checked into Suite 316.  Bear in mind, Browns is not cheap.  But it is better than the Savoy or the Ritz who charge similar prices in a less atmospheric and elegant setting.  For those of you braying for raciness, I direct you to the Donovan bar at Browns, named after Terence Donovan, and it’s range of pornographic prints on one side of the bar. 

The people who arrive at the open door of the English Tea Room look delighted and content : Americans in white trousers and over-dressed young ladies out to tea.  This is horsey-country, so the average woman in the room was about half a foot taller than me, bedecked in glorious hosiery and smelling of Penhaligons.  However, this does not have the laid back relaxation of Claridges.  The tea seating is not as luxurious, the sofas not as deep.  There was something slightly terse in the atmostphere.  Perhaps it was the headmistressy-type walls, but I felt I had to be on my best behaviour and was unable to completely relax and loll about and have a light snooze, which I think is necessary after high tea.

Eventually, we hauled ourselves out of our velveted, swivel chairs as the rush hour tube home called.   I resisted the urge to bray, SW10- like, into the bathroom.  The black and white tiles in the hall were covered with footmen who, I think, bowed at us.  The hush and Edwardian certitude would have pleased Evelyn Waugh – that is, if he had managed not to fall off his swivel chair onto a fellow diner.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you have enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

A Clerkenwell Tale

Good morning  readers, and this week we skid over into EC1, where the former working class area famous for its clock and watchmakers, Clerkenwell, is now so wealthy and chic that a corner of Exmouth Market will cost you a trust fund or seven.  Clerkenwell was always ripe for the picking when it came to gentrification because it exposes one of London’s home truths : People don’t want Victorian.  They want Georgian.  They want flesh spilling out a bit, a hint of classic, a hint of decadence, a bit of filth.  They want England before those killjoy Puritans got hold of it and blasted England with middle class Puritan morality.  They want high ceilings and a sense of space.  These please the modern eye ; show me a former Georgian London suburb and I’ll bet you your polenta that the area is now cluttered with public school types eating swordfish at £28 a plate.  The English are not natural Victorians; but are Georgians.  Highgate, Hampstead, Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, Old Street (the bits that the Germans didn’t bomb, nor post-war commercialism demolish), not to mention the parking headache known as Richmond upon Thames.  There are few English sights more elegant than a Georgian sash window.   And Clerkenwell is stuffed with some of the fruitiest Regency glass designs probably erected not long after Wellington won at Waterloo.

And I do think it ironic that the important Battle of Waterloo, which was won on the fields outside Brussels, has a great enormous station named in its honour.   Waterloo Station was an honourable representation of the success of the British in a battle which basically kick-started the nineteenth century of British imperial power.  How ironic then, that 180 years later, Waterloo Station was the place where British politicians had to go to get on a train and go back to the site of the original battle, Brussels, to bow to new European rules and international legislatives.    Not that the Regency knew this would happen, of course.  They were too busy arranging cavalries and galloping randomly with Prussians.

Moro is not new, of course, nor does it date back to the Regency, although the building it was in in Exmouth Market must do.  I dined there on Tuesday with someone who swears he went to Moro in 1989.  But in 1989 then, when we were beginning to spell “Sun-dried tomato” and thought Habitat was cutting edge, this place must have blown people’s minds.  It’s always rammed, extremely jolly, warm and very very loud inside Moro.  The menu is a respectful combination of Spanish and Moroccan.  I say respectful, as the menu blends sensitively, and seems to respect the national characteristics of both.  I started with a broad bean and rocket salad with something interesting on top that was goat’s cheese related, whilst Mr Bluebird had a wonderful braised pea concoction, with tiny girolle mushrooms, and so-tiny-they-were-nearly-invisible slices of cured ham.  This was all on top of what we first thought was a large mushroom, but turned out to be a cheery piece of fresh toast.

If you need dough to establish yourself in Clerkenwell, you certainly don’t need to bring your own dough to Moro.  The breads are wonderful, sour dough in the main, a very generous variety included in the cover charge, and some with surprises – shards of fennel that are buried in the base, chinks of sea salt hovering in the middle.  The only thing that wasn’t noble or fortifying was the prostitutes.  Well, I think they were prostitutes, but obviously I didn’t ask them.  Might have thought I was trying to book them for a job or something.  I think the table behind us was partly composed of prostitutes, and of the extremely high-end, very tall and glamourous South East Asian variety.   So much public peacock-like hair flicking and pseudo lesbian performance was going on during the starter on our neighbouring table, that I thought they were some kind of art installation.  The two girls (one of whom actually looked a bit like a chap) were with the two of the most mild-mannered, dismal and characterless looking men I’ve ever seen.  Much of our evening was spent ruminating on the nature of their relationship, although it was entirely obvious.  The basis of their evening at Moro was economic, rather than gastronomic.  I’ve always been a sort of supporter of prostitution – not actually, darlings, I mean, I have never been so desperate as to actually pay for it, you know – but at least you buy and then you get.  You can’t say the same about an estate agent or a life coach.  I find straightforward economic exchanges refreshing.  And frankly, if I was a middle-aged man with a paunch and a bald patch, I suppose nothing could be more refreshing than having a charming supper at Moro and then paying someone £500 to bend over and let you do extraordinary things to them in a five star hotel of your choice.

The two ladies (one of them possibly a chap – see above) spent quite some time talking loudly together whilst locked into a female toilet cubicle.  This wouldn’t have been a problem, only Moro has just the two loos, and the fact that one of them was being monopolised by two hookers in drag was a little distressing for the queue of us outside.  Eventually they vacated the cubicle and tottered out.  I was the first in after them. There were strands of tenacious, very long hairs on the floor and one calmly draped over the toilet paper.  They even carried on flicking their hair where no one could see, clearly.

Back to the food, my main meal was so delicious that I can barely express it – pink, delicately cooked slices of lamb with coriander butter, with fat chickpeas sitting in a peculiar dahl and a perky Greek style salad.  Two of our fellow diners went for the chicken, and Mr Bluebird opted for a seafood fish tagine which was apparently scrumptious.   Moro is a great place for sherry fans – two pages of various sherries fill the first section of the wine list – but as we are not sherry fans we reverted to the massive section of Spanish wines available, which Moro sources from small producers on the Western coast of Spain (no Riojas here).  We went for something which was third down on the list, extremely reasonably priced and was was on the loveliest wines I have ever tasted.    The acoustics in Moro, however, are unforgiving.  You have to scream at the person sitting next to you to be heard.  This is not helpful when it comes to supper party parlance.  I spent ten minutes listening to my husband tell a story about Luis Bunuel being taken to his first whorehouse when he was 13 by his father, and was under the impression he was talking about Oscar Wilde.  I kept trying to picture Oscar Wilde slipping over the threshold of a house of ill-repute but the image wouldn’t stick. I found it very confusing.  Obviously, what was going on on the table next to us was shaping our conversation topics as well.

Dessert was lovely – and I had plotted it that morning in the office at 10am while salivating over the Moro menu online.  I had Malaga ice cream with fat sultanas which had been soaked in sherry.  It was a party on a plate.  I wanted a party to go with the party on my plate so asked the waitress which dessert wine I should have to go with it, and she suggested “Pedro Ximenez Sanlucar de Barremeda”, which I am writing down for you, because if you drink one thing before you die, make sure it is this.  It was a kind of not-overly-sweet red sherry.  None of us are sherry drinkers, but all of us tried it and loved it.  Mr Bluebird said it was even better than the Spanish stout he had ordered the last time we were there.

A couple of double espressos saw us home, via the meandering Farringdon Road, still smacking of it’s peculiar Dickensian-chop-house aura.  Old pubs have closed down.  Travel bookshops with woodwork painted in duck egg blue or eau de Nil clutter about replacing newsagents and DIY supply shops.  I thought I saw the Duke of Wellington vanish down a side street in search of whore, but clearly was mistaken.  The last echoes of the mid 19th century in Farringdon are being batted out, and a strangely pretty early 19th century Georgian village has been re-emerging and reasserting itself in Clerkenwell in the last decade.  It isn’t being tempered by the current economic climate, it is thriving.  Moro provides excellent repast, tasty and original, and offers dishes that let the ingredients speak for themselves.  However, no matter how new, antiseptic and thoroughly middle-class Clerkenwell has become, you only have to turn your eyeline slightly to one side to see the prostitutes.  You can take England out of the Georgian era, but, it seems, you can’t take Georgian decadence out of the English.

Please return to the London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Afternoon Tea at St Pancras

Aah, St Pancras.   I went to the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel for tea yesterday.  And it was totally awful.   Londoners – avoid, avoid, avoid.  Having tea at Gilbert Scott’s Gothic nightmare hotel is worse than being beheaded at the age of 14, which is what happened to poor old St Pancras in Rome.  Now my cakes have digested and my tea has gone down, allow me to elaborate…

I thought I had done so well following my mammoth 3,000 word description of Museum of London last week, that what I deserved was a cup of Earl Grey and a bloody lovely slice of cake.  You know what I mean, readers, for this high point of high afternoon  – full afternoon tea – is the English’s best invention.  A carbo-friendly stop gap between luncheon and supper, a ritual that has no healthy items in it whatsoever and contains a three course meal in miniature.  Some London hotels do this splendidly.  Claridges is charming and laid back with a sumptuous collection of sofas and a harpist.  The Ritz is brutally fussy and French and accompanied with no nonsense hard-backed, slightly padded chairs.  There are lots of doilies.  The Savoy I haven’t been to since it’s refit but was always a slight disappointment.  The Soho Hotel in – well, Soho, actually – is a bastion of cosiness in London’s most racy district.  In the winter, the wooden shutters are drawn, the fire blazes and tea and scones are served in a Georgian room that is as blissful as anything in Black’s Club in Dean Street.  But Kings Cross is not the same as these places.  Actually, it looks a little cleaner, a little better.  It is now rather middle-class, friendly and exciting.  The phrase “Kings Cross” is used less and less and the rather patrician, Latin sounding “St Pancras” is used more and more.  This place which used to feature industrial wastes of York Way and random prostitutes sloping up and down outside the station wearing scowls and three inch heels is now a spanking new Eurozone with Parisian trains, an organic bakery on the lower concourse and London’s most antipicated hotel reopening.  Twenty years ago, who would have thought it?

The St Pancras Renaissance looks splendid from the outside and is, as it’s name suggests, a rebirth.  Or rather a revival.  The Gothic movement was initially a Victorian revival, and now we’ve revived the revival, which is  nice, if aesthetically confusing.  They’ve taken out the darkness of the gothic and bleached everything with high glass windows and sunlight.  It’s a bit like massive, glass-encrusted neo-Victorian pub.  The inside reminds me of a hotel near Heathrow Airport where I sometimes used to go to watch my brothers play in four piece lunch-friendly jazz in the early 1990s on Sundays.  It’s open, wide, characterless and non-nation specific.  The grand red brick of the Victorian hotel has been sliced through with modern glass plates, and UAE-looking black marble floors.  The door staff look distrustful and slightly bitchy.  They seem to want to know what I am doing there.  They are suspicious and graceless – but why?  Okay, I was a slightly sweaty, cardigan and plastic bag clutching woman in four inch heels, grumpily lurching out from the Victoria Line, but not a child-catcher, terrorist or robber who has a thing for snatching hotel pillowcases.

So, from the Victoria Line into the Victorian Slime.  Large leathery banquettes fill an atrium-sized room that looks like a very large changing room of a municipal swimming pool.  To the right from the lobby is the Booking Office, part of the original building, which links the station to the hotel.  It’s a lovely looking dark bar.  It’s perfect for a post-work drink, probably in the autumn or winter, when the darkness suits the climate.   This room does at least do something to excude the romantic idea of travelling by rail.  We were told we could order afternoon tea here.  We were given four menus – all wrong, all different –  in succession, before being told there wasn’t a menu for tea.  Honestly – I nearly got on a train for France.   No tea?  Scandal.  “Yes,” our challenged waiter said, “we don’t do tea.”

It turns out they did, about seven feet away, in the vast swimming pool changing room bit where non-plussed old people sat about chewing stale bread.  Victorian Gothic, whether it is to your taste or not, has atmostphere.  But whoever designed the interior of the St Pancras Renaissance was not imbued with the confidence necessary to let this atmostphere come into it own.  Slabs of modern furniture look like concessionary apologies, offensive in their inoffensiveness.  It feels like a smart airport.

We sit down and are given another menu.  And another.  And then had to ask for another, our seventh.  We get the right menu.  The afternoon tea was £30.00, which is usual for London hotels, if at the very top price bracket of the high tea charts.  What wasn’t usual was the “choose your own coz we’re too lazy” table in the middle which clearly featured leftovers from that morning’s breakfast.  It must have, because you don’t serve croissants and pain au chocolat at tea time.  Unless you’re a pervert.  Or French.  Or a French pervert, all of which were far too close for liking at the Eurostar terminal.  Terminal was the level of boredom I engaged with when trying to place an order.  We would, Mother Bluebird and I, have one tea to share.  But – here’s the complicated science bit! – we wanted two tea cups.  We are not so poor as to only afford to drink out of one.  Mother Bluebird wanted soya milk in hers, because she is lactose intolerant.  I wanted to hit something because I was Victorian Gothic-intolerant.  I ordered Earl Grey tea with slices of lemon.

Five minutes later, our waitress (over-starched, under-trained and – quite frankly – in the throws of a tea-based nightmare) said, did I mean I wanted a lemon and ginger tea bag in my Earl Grey tea?  No, I said.  It was enough to make me want to get on a train to France.    “Is the afternoon tea everything listed here?” we asked.  There were at least four cakes and lots of different kind of sandwiches.  She looked totally shocked and went off to speak to the Manager.  Of Tartlets.  Or someone.  She came back.  Yes, she said – it’s everything.

“Oh goodie.”

“Everything” turned up twenty minutes later, and was four finger sandwiches, two tiny slices of apple and walnut cake, an unhappy chocolate macaroon and a stressed oblong of French patisserie with three tiny raspberries on it, that looked like a pastry contemplating ending it all and committing suicide.  The scones hadn’t arrived at all.  Honestly, by this point I was half way to getting a train to France, or even bounding out of the door, onto the platform and going to Lille.  Not that I know where Lille is, but it has to be more fun than this over-inflated hellhole, even if it’s in somewhere monstrous like Belgium.  This was supposed to be my birthday tea and it was a bag of shite.  What to do?   There were in total, 8 items for £30.00.  I worked out that was about £3.50 per item.  The roast beef in the finger sandwich was full of gristle and decidedly creepy.  The bread for sandwiches was cut half a day earlier.   The staff were being marshalled by very strange looking managers in very cheap, shiny suits who glared at us all with guarded suspicion and who would have been more at home as managers of those shops in the Tottenham Court Road where they unlock stolen mobile phones.   There are two things the English do very well when it comes to customer service, and unfortunately they are the only two things : provide a sumptuous English afternoon tea, and serve it using excellently attired butler-type professional waiters in London’s five star hotels.    That’s it.  The rest of English customer service is a fruity mix of rudeness, class resentment and laziness.  Five star hotel teas are really all we have.  A good waiter knows how to be graceful, deferential and to imbue your experience with that vital air of luxury.  The staff at the St Pancrap Renaissance know nothing of this.  They don’t understand what they are doing or how to do it.

We wanted our scones (pronounced sconnes, obviously, not scohnes).  “Where are our scones?”   we said.  We were ladies.  Having tea. In the centre of London.  In England.  It cannot be.  IT CANNOT BE THERE ARE NO SCONEWORTHY SCONES.  The Gods simply wouldn’t allow it.

“We were waiting for a sign.  You have to signal,” said our waitress.  Signal?  I know it’s a station but I don’t work on the railways.  What kind of signal?  Should I stand up and burst into the chorus of the “Wichita Lineman”?  Or hold up a gold embossed sign stating “Scones required here, please deliver forthwith”?

“Sorry?”  said Mother Bluebird.  She hadn’t been this perplexed since John Lewis refused to deliver a chair and she gave them a stern telling off over the phone, featuring words like “I’ve been a cardholder for thirty years, you know”.

“Yes, we like to receive a signal, after you have finished eating everything else, and then present the scones to you, warm,” said the white jacketed lady waitress.

Is this as depressing to read as it is to write?  When did English afternoon tea become so laboured and awful?  It’s not performance art.  Nor is it fine dining from the 1980s, for God’s sake.  Surely the high bastion of high tea is impervious to such tomfoolery, I thought.  Then I realised.  Most of the people sitting around us were either OAPs or Russian oligarch OAPs.  This was an idea of English tea but it wasn’t the right one.  It was someone else’s idea of afternoon tea, and that someone else must be a parsimonious, precious sadist.  The idea is if you pay £30.00 a head for tea you get £30.00 of pompous service, which is stupid.  What you want is £30.00 of food.   What a bunch of fools.  “SIGNAL” we both said, somewhat abruptly.  Our scones came, and they were wonderful.  But they are supposed to come before the pastries, not as a digestif.

There was a one year old on the table next to us.  Quite chirpy she was.  When she ordered her tea, along with her parents, she received a 1,000 monologue on the tea, what kind of cakes there would be and whether she liked milk with her Lapsang Souchang.  And she was only one.  We didn’t get a speech.  The staff were slow, sycophantic, yet ineffective.  No one knew what they were doing.  Honestly, I nearly threw myself under a train to France at this point.  It’s English tea gone mad.  Even Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter Tea Party made more sense than this.

We were a bit annoyed so went off round the hotel to look at things.  Ernst & Young were having a meeting in a room ostentatiously titled “The Ladies Smoking Room” which put me in mind of a series of 1920s flappers sitting about in funny hats with massive cigarette holders.  We found the loos, which were dead classy, but around every corner there were intimidating men in cheap suits, looking at you funnily as if you were trying to steal something.  We went to have a look at a staircase which looked like a Gothic nightmare someone had thrown up.  We felt we couldn’t hang around looking at it for as long as we would have liked due to the heavy who was clearly guarding the hotel from further acts of architectural and design vandalism.  We sloped off.  It was all very unpleasant.

If you find yourself in Kings Cross do pop into the Booking Office bar for a quick drink, but only if there’s a train to swiftly carry you away somewhere else.  This hotel is a hollow, ordinary and downright silly place.  It is nothing but daft.com.   And if you are unfortunate enough to be staying there in a room, remember that they have recently discovered that the station announcements for arrivals and departures are audible through most of the rooms,and you don’t want to be disturbed at night by the information that the 14.52 to Edinburgh Waverley is about to leave.  Or by the pitiful cries of ladies screaming for their scones.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

A Tale of Two French Houses

Some weeks, culinarily speaking, I get a bit puritanical.  Especially when my waist threatens to leak over the top of my tights.  This is not a good look and encourages laughter from onlookers.  In those weeks I recline, chewing lettuce, crunching through cherry tomatoes, trying to think of cottage cheese as something to look forward to.  It requires an awful lot of affection for cottage cheese to do this.

This week I have put my system through a bit of a shock but piling in two city dining experiences in just over 12 hours and I think my colon is still protesting.  On Tuesday night, I had a late supper at the robust Arbutus which squats with Gallic certainty at the Soho Square end of Frith Street.  The menu took about a quarter of a hour’s reading to understand, but once understood, looked thrilling.  I kicked off with a curd goats cheese, hazlenut and heritage beetroot salad that was truly exceptional and I don’t think I had ever eaten such a beetroot so well-bred that it had it’s own heritage before.  The aperitif was a prosecco made with blood orange rather than the usual white peach.  This settled nicely – if oddly- on top of the vodka and lemonade I had quaffed shortly before at the bar at Little Italy down the street.  I was with my brother who lunches in Little Italy whenever there is an “a” in the day.  As soon as we placed our drinks order, a waiter arrived with a platter of extraordinary looking langoustine, having taken one look at my brother and hoping we were stopping in for the evening.

Back at Arbutus, we were cheered by our waitress, chatty and informative, full of good advice and charm.  For the entree I went for a saddle of rabbit, with artichoke and accompanied by a cottage pie made with shoulder of rabbit.  The saddle was as soft (and as rich) as chicken liver pate.  Most of the chaps at the table opted for the skirt of beef which came with it’s own carb-busting potato dauphinoise and a circle of bone marrow big enough to be worn as a bangle.  Most pronounced the food outstanding.   But the really good bit – and I mean the really good bit – as always – was the pudding.   The tarte tatin was apparently for two people, so being six of us we ordered two of them, only to be presented by two enormous pies the size of Victorian stovepipe hats which we were quite dazzled by.  Instead of wafer thin slices of apple we had – oh wow – enormous, fat, fluffy quarters of apples, laced in caramel and outstanding.  This came with custard.  Although this being a French restaurant they HAVE to call it creme anglaise.  The waitress, still attentive and cutting the tarte tatin majestically, asked my brother if he was French.  He replied, in his best GCSE grammar but she soon bamboozled him with language and he gave up.  She then asked him if he was Spanish but he didn’t try to get away with that one.

Obviously at this stage, I thought I was going to pass out or that someone should at least hand me a Rennie.  My brother suggested, as he usually does at this stage, that what I needed was an Armagnac.  He illustrated this by promptly drinking two of them.  But one of them was enough to render me, frankly, hysterical.  I giggled like a maniac all the way home, but regretted the double espresso that rendered my night’s sleep feverish, brandy-raddled and a bit sweaty.

Understandly, the next morning I was a little confused.  The world looked pixelated, like when the digital telly doesn’t work properly on Channel 4 and the image disintegrates into little fuzzy squares.  High on ibuprofen and the promise of good, low-carb, sober deeds still to come, I rocked on up to the office.  Shuffled paper, did some typing, shuffled paper, did some typing……………zzzzzz Rabid caffeine hit with sugar at 11.30am to see me through until – DING!! – oh, I’m off to lunch at one at Polpetto, you know.

Polpetto is related (maiden aunt?  sister?  cousin?) to Polpo, the Venetian bacaro which serves genuine cicheti in Beak Street (see https://thelondonbluebird.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/cheese-and-music/) and which I visited last year.  I adored Polpo and had been excited to try Polpetto.  This restaurant is housed in the somewhat claustrophobic upstairs room at The French House, in Dean Street, that hotbed of Gallic resistance and ferocious beer drinking in Soho’s south eastern flank.   Like Polpo, it’s reservations only at lunchtime and a first come, first fed system in the evenings.

The food was as staggering as Polpo, although for some reason a fifth of the menu, the part titled cicheti, was missing from the paper menus laid in front of us.  However, there were beautiful breaded sardines served with a rich homemade mayonnaise, zucchini fritte, a cavolo nero with lovely borlotti beans and rosemary crumbs, and an excellent grilled bistecca with fresh shaved fennel and parmesan.  But the experience was hollow.  The service was sloppy and slow.  There was none of the customer service which seems so rigorously adhered to over the street at Arbutus.  Our two waitresses appeared lackadaisical, and didn’t write our order down.  Perhaps this explains why the bellinis we ordered never arrived.  We ordered further sardines and – eventually – after about 20 minutes when they failed to materialize – just asked for the bill.  The plates were cleared by one waitress, only for the other to turn up just after the bill was paid, with the second dish of sardines.

The Polpetto experience teaches such an important thing; food is not enough.  I suspect – and this is a quintessentially English problem – that the waiting staff were  not professional waiting staff, but likely to be girls who took up waitressing for a while.  The gulf between the professional expertise offered at Arbutus and that offered here was extraordinary.  If the service is as sloppy and recalcitrant as it was in Polpetto on Tuesday lunchtime it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, no matter how good the salt cod is.  They simply cannot afford to let the relationship between the staff and the customer lapse.  I shan’t be going back to Polpetto, which it was originally my intention to do.  Not until they wake up and take some much-needed customer service lessons from Arbutus.

From the mouth of the wolf…

La Bocca di Lupo (http://www.boccadilupo.com/) is in Archer Street, but don’t let that put you off.  This non-street runs directly behind Shaftesbury Avenue, housing one or two stage doors of the cramped theatres at this southern end of the avenue, as well as the occasional media offices where metrosexual chaps with hair like squirrels fur plug themselves into i-phones or i-balls or i-packs and chat to editing suites which are only around the corner in Wardour Street (it would be quicker to walk, ladies).   But La Bocca di Lupo shines on like a beacon of hope for happy Ligurian masticators.  Despite the fact it’s been open for well over a year, I hadn’t managed to visit it until this week.

Oh, we were a happy band – me, Mr Bluebird, mother of Bluebird, Stepfather of Bluebird and Auntie and Uncle of Bluebird.  The reason we were happy is three of us had downed most of a bottle of champagne in the Mother Bluebird’s flat before supper, and then walked, screeching and guffawing and burping, the ten minutes to the restaurant, whilst the Mother Bluebird told some rude stories.  It was all rather festive.    The restaurant is small (which is usual for Italian restaurants, my Italian teacher told me – well, she told me in Italian so she may have been talking about skiing, or envelopes, or John Lennon, for all I know)  and noisy.  Too smart to be a trattoria, once inside, the chattering noise levels makes it sound like a trattoria but it doesn’t look like one.  Sleek, swish and with a long, white marble-topped bar by the entrance which stretches towards the back of the restaurant; such layout seems de rigeur for Italian restaurants in London these days.   There’s something about sitting at a bar that – like writing a cheque – never fails to make you feel grown up.  At lunchtimes, the bar is practically empty and offers a special lunch menu; and I suggest you take yourself there forthwith.  In the evenings, availability is a little trickier; expect to book in advance – and expect a 7pm table if you book less than 2 weeks ahead.  But it will be thoroughly worthwhile.

Our waiters were lovely and chatty; one of them got so thrilled at doing his job he inadvertently smashed a glass at an adjoining table (mazel tov!) which made up for the smashed people around our own.  For starters I had some black figs, proscuitto and an Italian cheese which tasted like brie combined with Dairylea and something far nicer, called stracchino, which internet research has told me is 50% milk fat.  It was divine and generously apportioned, which meant the remainder could be slavered on top of focaccia bread and chomped satisfyingly.  To follow, I had the lamb (medium rare) with chilled spinach with olive oil and lemon (wonderful, much better than it sounds) and then a bit of everyone else’s side dishes.  Stepfather Bluebird, directly to my right, was having a marvellous time with the guinea fowl.   Dishes are offered at two prices, either as a starter or as an entree, so you can shape your own meal.  My lamb was brilliantly cooked, with a generous pile of rucola, but I had to pace myself.  After all I had to save myself for two puddings.

The two puddings thing is the result of di Lupo‘s brilliant marketing ploy; they fill you up with montepulciano d’abruzzo, cream-laden cheeses and then a dessert menu with Italian specialities like black cherries on ice and then steer you towards their ice-cream shop on the other side of Archer Street.  Once you arrive here you are powerless to resist; chestnut, hazlenut, pine nut, sour cherry amereno and ricotta, coffee & honey are just some of today’s choices : (go to http://gelupo.com/.)  But the joy of the ice creams is that they are not made with cream where possible, but only with sugar syrup, and the sweetness is helped with carob seed.  This goes some way to depleting your guilt; the calorific content of this ice cream is lower than any Haagen Dazs crap you can pick up in Sainsburys, and a hundred times better.  They also do free tastings, and offer ice-cream loyalty cards, in the manner that coffee shops do.   My first pudding – back in the restaurant – was milk-free espresso ice cream that knocked my socks off.  Then afterwards, I had a bit of everyone else’s ice cream in the gelateria.

The only thing left to say, regarding La Bocca di Lupo – and Gelupo – is that Frith Street’s Little Italy needs to watch it’s outdated Tuscan step.  This long-standing Italian restaurant of Frith Street extended it’s dining space about three years ago and doubled the prices on its menu so its customers could pay for it.  In doing so, the aesthetic layout of the restaurant was destroyed and it lost its charm.    In a world where La Bocca di Lupo charges between £5 and £7 for a variety of innovative Lazian and Venetian side dishes of exceptional quality, it’s hard to see how long Little Italy will get away with the nonsense of charging £13.00 for an 1990s-style antipasti of mozzarella and sun-blushed tomatoes.  Forget them and get yourself to Archer Street without delay, my friends.   Polpo and La Bocca di Lupo have been much needed breaths of fresh air in Venetian and Ligurian dining in London.  The old lady of Frith Street better take note; when it comes to Italian restaurants in Soho, the bar has been raised.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Joe Allen : Theatrical nirvana or theatrical hell…

I had the oddest experience on Thursday.  I left Joe Allen sober.  Before you start wondering what seismic shift in the universe must have happened to bring this about, I ought to tell you it was only 6pm.  Plus I had a slight cold and two hours of Jeff Goldblum to get through.  And he is a biyatch when you’ve had a few because he looks even taller and is twice as scary.

I go to Joe Allen because its sort of what I do, and what I have always done.  It’s where my parents used to take us, and where me and my siblings celebrated several of our birthdays, because they always did good birthday cakes.  I have been known to cross counties for one of their brownies.  It’s where you go before a show or – more appropriately – after a show, where people crane their necks to see if the bastard actor they saw IN the show is walking in.  They pretend to not be impressed, and return to their caesar salads with a frisson of smug glee.   London is bereft of decent dining after 11pm, so when Joe Allen opened in the 1970s it must have knocked everyone’s showbiz socks off.  It’s a stage away from a stage, unashamedly showbiz and unashamedly brash.   It looks like someone’s idea of what the West End theatre world is.  I enjoy the fact it’s fabulously dated, with it’s stripped back to brick, New York style walls crammed with more theatre posters than Danny La Rue’s bedroom.  Most of these posters are from 1974, many of which feature that doyenne of 1970s and 1980s Broadway, Bernadette Peters.  Of course, like everywhere, it hasn’t been the same since the smoking ban.  It used to be compulsory to light up in Joe Allen (fag or no fag) because acting is the last industry where smoking is mandatory.  It’s against the law not to smoke in rehearsal rooms.  I have not touched a cancer stick since 2004 but I still miss smoking in Joe Allen, so much so that I left with several of their ashtrays in the 1990s.   My attachment to the potato skins (with sour cream; always ordered “off-menu”) is partly gastric, partly clubby and hugely emotional.

Joe Allen has stood proud and unchanging in the face of dietary concerns and restaurant fashion, a bastion of carbohydrate excess in Exeter Street.  Whilst not having a Proustian madeleine moment with the potato skins of my childhood, I can look at the rest of the unchanged menu – still filled with the same ribs, steaks, large potato fries and corn muffins with no nod to the low-GI- obsessed, fad-driven, green juice gulping legions of actors who sit in there pretending to wait for casting directors.  Eight years ago, when I was still scooping up non-roles in the shallow end of the acting pool, the cast I was in had a birthday.  Deciding on what to do, I suggested Joe Allen.  I got a RADA-trained withering glance, and the unpleasant retort: “But it’s SO showbiz!”  They weren’t even interested.   I thought that as they seemed so much more intent on aggressively nurturing their careers than I did, they could do a lot worse than spend several evenings at Joe Allen trying to drag theatre producers into the toilet cubicles for sex acts.  After all, that was how half of them ended up in that play in the first place.   But apparently not.  They wanted to go that ugliest of all ugly private members bars, Teatro, drink Chablis with Soho media boys, and toy with a disgusting club sandwich before throwing up in a taxi all the way home.

Joe Allen is not a venue for those uptight, chin-stroking, miserable, prudish actoooors,who I spent most of my youth avoiding, very often slightly sadistic woman-haters, who do very very serious dramas, sniff and sneer at the out of towners (whilst pretending they’re not really from Guildford) and who look like they’ve never been laid properly.  Oh, no – this is more for the seriously glitzy actors – the blowsy but loveable Vaudevillians, the stage door Johnnies and West End Wendys.  They have more heart.  In Joe Allen you’re more likely to see teeth and tits that black polo necks.  This is what stops it from being pretentious.  You see, they are not pretending to be bottle blonde West End Wendys getting smashed on a Tuesday night while recounting anecdotes about John Barrowman that cannot be repeated in front of children; they actually are. They have no delusions about it, and neither do we.  They are not pretending not to look at the door to be resolutely unimpressed by whoever is coming in; they wallow in it.  The actors who come in for dinner wallow in being recognised too, so it’s all gravy.  The West End Wendys don’t have prejudices towards the out of towners; they couldn’t care less what town you’re from frankly, as long as you join in with the singing.

The unchanging menu has turned out to be Joe Allen’s winning ticket; by removing itself from any competition in the arena of so-called fashionable fabulousness it can be itself – and that is, I am relieved to say, better than ever.  I had heard horrid reports.  Several people had said it wasn’t what it was, that their steaks were tough, the staff dismissive, the service sub-standard, the food overpriced.  I saw Craig Revel-Horwood negotiating a steak last time I was there and he looked well miffed; like he wanted to put it in the dance-off.  Part of the bad reports from Joe Allen broke me a little, not only because I draw comfort from those aspects of London life which are impervious to change.  So, I was half dreading my experience, when I rocked up there last Thursday, grappling through the door with my London Library bag and my Italian grammar exercises.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that I’d booked a table in Italian, but it didn’t throw the door luvvie, who was so polite and kind and showed me to my table.  Service was attentive and the best I have received in London for two or three years.  I had a ten minute wait for my friend and ordered a small carafe of Chianti (enough for two glasses.  £8.50.  You can’t find that anywhere else in a good restaurant) and the only disturbance to me trying to translate the “Corriere della Sera” was the lady on the table next to me arranging her smear test loudly over the phone.  The place was fairly full with pre-theatre goers, as it offers a competitive pre-theatre menu up to 6.45pm, a cut-off time they stick to religiously.  The dining space is wide and divided into two – cheerfully lightly air-conditionned on this hot day – and all tables cunningly allow visual access to the bookings desk at the door, in honest recognition that what everybody really loves doing here is wolfing down a sirloin while watching that successful fifty-something, brutally blow-dried television actor arrive carrying an expensive overcoat and a third wife for a bash at the dover sole.

I don’t need to tell you how wonderfully gay-friendly it is, obviously.   Last time I was here two men were sitting on two separate tables on opposite sides of the restaurants wearing leather skirts and we spent the evening wondering which of them would go up to the other one to swap fashion notes.  When they eventually did, they left the restaurant together.  This kind of thing has been accepted in theatrical circles long before the rest of the world caught up, of course, and it’s been usual for that sort of thing to go on here for years.  Many years ago, after an evening at the theatre with a friend of mine, he said to me “Come on, let’s go to Joe’s….” and after mildly protesting that I had to be up in the morning for work, he twisted my weak arm.  I had assumed he was going to be bringing me HERE, but he actually took me to Madame Jo-Jos, where you have a very different kind of evening.  And they don’t give you a steak.  At least at Joe Allen you can have a hearty meal, a good bread basket, a bottle of Chianti – all the while accompanied by the tinkling of the resident piano player – and then pick someone up for a spot of consensual S&M.

My friend arrived and we ordered what we always order (rare sirloin, fries which are more like very very good 1970s wedges, buttered spinach with garlic and a tomato and onion salad) and it was the best steak I have had in a long time – probably since the last time I was there.  Soft as butter inside and perfectly cooked.  The potatoes were excellent, although nearly so hot as to blow your head off.  Craig Revel-in-yer-Wormwood would have given our dinner a “10”.  We even got service with a smile, proving that this New Yorkist London restaurant has learned its best trick from the city that inspired it; most London restaurants have waiters bristling with resentment, underlined with a smidge of class resentment. In America (and in New York in particular)where waiting is a respected profession, this is not the case.

I nearly forgot to go to the theatre.  This is quite understandable because being in Joe Allens is like being in the theatre; the restaurant cocoons you below street level in a strange pre-Blackberry, pre-internet theatrical alternative universe.  If the waiters waltzed in pirouetting their way through a Mack & Mabel medley you wouldn’t be shocked.  You just want to wallow forever in the bread baskets and the chitchat.  We ordered a swift double espresso, in my struggle to stay awake during a play when I was coming down with a cold, and headed off to the play.  I was delighted that the restaurant had exceeded my expectations, and yet another small section of my transient city life has proved slightly resistible to change.   Each time you return to a much-loved place is a revisit to the evenings and moments you had there before, and in that way a restaurant experience can be so much more than the sum of its pan-fried parts.  I had feared that this entry would be a disappointed and sad one.  I am delighted that it is not.

http://www.joeallen.co.uk/

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.