Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

This Menu Spells Trouble

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

This Menu Spells Trouble

Article excerpt


IT'S no surprise that gastro-pubs make a strong entry in the list of places where two can eat and drink for under pound sterling 60. Young chefs and entrepreneurs taking advantage of relatively cheap, spacious, fully licensed, well-located premises and knocking out good-value food is no longer a novelty.

Indeed, there is scarcely anywhere left where you can go for a quiet, sullen pint.

A gastro-pub style of menu has evolved which rarely omits to mention fish cakes, lamb shanks, pumpkin ravioli (easily bought in), spiced chicken (Thai or Moroccan), bangers and mash, rib-eye steak and sticky toffee pudding.

Predictable, yawninducing such a list might be, but it is usually sound enough grub.

Until I went to THE BELSIZE last week, the attractive transformation of what used to be The Belsize Tavern, I had never come across a "gastro-pub" menu that was actually repellent.

Misspellings didn't help.

Words like "ratatouie" and "rocquette" make you think that not only has the chef never eaten in a restaurant in his life, but he has also never read a cookery book.

Dishes like salad of confit trout, black pudding and mustard make you think that when he goes home he watches Mike Leigh's film Life is Sweet, lapping up every menu idea from Timothy Spall's appalling restaurant, the Regrette Rien.

I ordered this meaningless assembly - how can you confit trout which is innately rich in fish oils? - because amazingly it appealed more than the alternative first courses. The mishmash of fish and crumbled blood sausage was absolutely horrible.

Lobster bisque was not a creamy, luscious soup as the word bisque signals, but a thin, spiteful broth. We had been told by the waitress that there was no lamb and also that there was no " rocquette" and Parmesan.

Nowadays that is a bit like a waitress saying we don't have any bread or salt. …

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