So another eatery in Soho opens with good word of mouth. Between Cay-Tre and the Groucho this thin sliver of a bar cum restaurant comes with a pedigree. Three of the Hix team have jumped ship and set up their own venture: Chef, Julian Biggs; Manager, Rory McCoy; and PR Manager, Clare Lattin.
Unusually, it has a bring-your-own-disc house rule, meaning a turntable sits in the corner, you bring your own vinyl, and you play it for all to enjoy…cooo, that’s certainly original if not remarkable.
I had been told by my reliable friend Razwana that this was a place to eat because Julian is so fit. The beardy look does not appeal but I was happy to try his “British” grub. Walking down Dean Street last Thursday the board outside promised foie gras for £8 so I popped in for pre theatre eating before the planned trip to the ENO.
It was not yet busy at 6.15. A table of four on my left were drinking 330ml bottle of Fucking Hell beer for £4 a go. There are four tables for two and about 15 bar stools up against the bar. When I ordered the foie gras the waitress winced, “Sorry, I don’t think we’re serving it”. I jokily drew her attention to the board outside. “Yes” said her superior, sidling up “but that was a different menu”. “Really”, I replied, “which one was that?” “The one we stopped serving two minutes ago” she said, as she put another in front of me, with no foie gras. This was written on a piece of papery card about two inches square which looked like it had been torn from a school exercise book; but it had green credentials, written on both sides.
“OK”, I said trying hard to understand, “I know it’s not on the menu, the new one that is, but could we have some slices of that delicious looking Jamon Iberico on the bar counter?”. “Sorry” she replied, in best jobsworth mode by now, “I don’t think we’re serving that.” I’ll ask the chef”, she said disappearing towards the back. A few moments later someone male, yet beardless, appeared from the kitchen, and made his way to the Jamon, still tantalisingly perched on its stand.
Imagine my joy at the thought that he would soon be slicing it up for me, then imagine my disappointment and dismay as he simply lifted it up and disappeared back from whence he had come, wordless and silent.
The waitress asked if I had chosen from the menu, the current one I supposed. I asked what had happened to the Jamon. “Oh”, she replied, “we decided it was not of good enough quality to serve to customers. “Oh” I replied. V and I both quietly chose slow cooked lamb and considered the wine list.
This was written on a square of white tiles to the left of the bar, about twenty wines but without distinguishing red or white. You could buy by the glass or the bottle. We chose two glasses, not wanting to fall asleep at the opera. At a rough calculation they were on average £6 per glass and £35 per bottle. I was irritated by these prices but not as irritated as I was to be served 125ml measures, even though they were in attractive glassware.
The astonishing thing is the lamb was served with no delay and was delicious; it was soft, and tasty, but inexplicably served in a sort of Spanish high sided black bowl. Having been thrown into confusion, then anger at the service, wine prices, and ambience, I wondered if the bowl was merely another portion controlling device. No bread was served and so I consulted the “menu”. For a further two pounds I could buy a portion of bread. This too was good. Cover charges do grate and two pounds for two slices of good sourdough, although more expensive than a trip to the bakers, is not expensive by restaurant standards, But it rankled to have to order it with a dish with no carbohydrates.
Overall I felt I had stumbled into a pre-New Labour public service environment where the consumers were there for the benefit of the workers. No return visit is on the cards.