Modestly revamped, this lake-view Barbican restaurant offers an interesting menu in a room still rather redolent of the ’70s; while the cooking is of good quality, the bravely English menu perhaps lacks the general appeal that you’d expect for the dining facility of a cultural centre.
here’s a lot of refurbishment going on at the moment. Perhaps it’s because restaurateurs can’t, in current market conditions, cash out advantageously from properties they’d otherwise be happy to exit, so they decide that the next best thing is to have a bit of a wash and brush-up.
We don’t know anything, however, about the specific motivations of Searcy’s 1847 (as they are now called) in refurbishing their property which enjoys a view of the Barbican ‘lake’. The former caterers – who are now seeking to make quite a name as restaurateurs too – have not only refurbished it, they have also ‘relaunched’ it. That, it seems, happens when you not only brush up the décor, but also the culinary format.
First problem, however, was that we couldn’t actually see any obvious physical changes. We were therefore very grateful to our helpful and engaging waiter for pointing out that the carpet had changed colour, and that there was now a new dining bar where solo diners can eat watching the goings-on by the lake. For a place that had just been ‘relaunched’, though, we’d have to say the overall impression was one of continuity (and, let’s be frank, just a little bit dreary – these ’70s spaces take quite a lot of livening up). It didn’t help that the place, admittedly in the first week of its new guise, was pretty much empty for lunch.
If the setting still seems a little retro, however, the menu has been brought bang up-to-date, in the sense that it is defiantly English. We do wonder about the general appeal of this style. Most of us – and this will apply particularly to the less metropolitan sort of diner you may find in a cultural destination like the Barbican – have been brought up to feel happier with a French, Anglo-French or Italian menu than we do with a thoroughbred English one.
The result of all this Englishness, can, in short, be a menu which lacks ‘easy’ appeal: there was nothing on the menu that our (professional-diner) lunching companion really wanted. That‘s not to denigrate the aim, which is a worthy one, but we suspect that this whole English thing – it its extreme form – may be a bit of a fad, and that we’ll shortly all go back to the sort of Anglo-French stuff that’s done quite nicely for the last century or so (if, perhaps, with more English dishes, and a bit more emphasis on local provenance). That’s not to criticise the realisation or presentation of the food we tried, though, which was thoroughly good, if not, of itself, a sufficient reason to seek the place out.
And there’s the rub. We do see getting the punters in as a bit of an issue here, and we do wonder if the absence of a keenly-priced set lunch and pre-theatre menu isn’t just a little bit barmy. This is quite a big restaurant, and – particularly with its slightly ‘acquired-taste‘ menu – it’s difficult to see how they’re really going to build the custom up any other way.