The most satisfactory to date of the ‘budget-Gordon’ establishments, this huge Victorian boozer in Maida Vale appears the least effortful of the trio, and – perhaps in consequence – succeeds best; it struck us as effectively a large and smart – but in some ways quite standard – pub dining room, above a bar whose décor (original) is equalled by few in London.
e weren’t especially impressed by Gordon Ramsay’s first gastropub (the Narrow) and, like most reviewers, saw little to praise at his subsequent budget production, the relaunched Foxtrot Oscar bistro in Chelsea. Our expectations as we ventured to Maida Vale for a day-one visit to his latest ‘entry-level’ offering were therefore frankly not high.
It’s very difficult, though, not to be initially impressed by this imposing boozer, and its capacious ground-floor bars. The light-fittings are contemporary in style, but otherwise nothing about the place – least of all, what looks very much like a standard ‘pub carpet’ – would indicate to the casual observer that this is the latest outpost of the world-famous Sweary Chef. Ask for a grapefruit juice, though – it is Lent, after all – and it comes recently-squeezed, rather that courtesy of Mr Britvic.
Ascend the (surprisingly unimposing) staircase, and you find yourself in a large dining room, whose rather bland décor comes as something of a surprise after the Victorian riot below. (Perhaps a shame that they didn’t invest a bit of money in picking out the room’s elaborate frieze.) Apart from its scale, this really could be pretty much any dining room above any pub anywhere, albeit of the smarter sort.
We enjoyed our food pretty much consistently. It was simple stuff for the most part, well done – more grand-pub nosh than gastropub fare. Steak pie was good, for example, with nice crusty pastry, but on the salty side. A treacle tart with a lemony tang – served at room temperature and with a little bown of clotted cream – was rather better. Starters included very good eel with celeriac remoulade, a tasty dish of cockles, and a rather middling black pudding and egg salad. Staples such as bread, mash and coffee were good rather than in any way remarkable.
So all-in-all, a pretty good meal in a room which – when full – might generate quite a bit of atmosphere (as it used to when it was called Ben’s Thai).
Service was friendly, but perhaps on the leisurely side – well it was day one. A service charge is automatically added to one’s bill – which is arguably a bit pushy for a pub – but the credit card machine had also been programmed to solicit a gratuity on top. This is most definitely not best practice: as the operation settles in, let’s hope the machine is taught some F-ing better manners.