With great discretion, one of London’s best Gallic chefs in London has opened up in Smithfield; of his undoubted abilities, however, there was not much hint on our flat early-days visit.
organ Meunier is one of the best Gallic chefs in London. Year after year, our survey has shown his cooking to be better than many much flashier places in the West End and Chelsea. Obscurely located in Holloway, though, his eponymous pub-conversion restaurant has never really achieved much more than a parochial following.
It would be nice to say that he has now burst on to the central London scene, but ‘crept' might be more accurate. Many people who follow these things for a living seem to have been unaware that he was opening up opposite Smithfield Market: there must be some reason the restaurant was, with the exception of our own party, entirely deserted at lunchtime on the third day of business.
The amiable and efficient maître d’ (the sole waiter) did his best to explain away the absence of custom on the basis that lunches were never a big deal at the Holloway operation. So what? This explanation seemed to betray a rather alarming lack of knowledge of this City-fringe market. Do they know how much - established, high quality – competition there is in this part of town nowadays?
Business doesn’t just 'rub off', and we found the absence of any compelling marketing proposition outside the small, rather discreet, and – some might say – rather uninspiring-looking premises decidedly odd. The supposition appears to be that once the word about the food gets out, the crowds will come.
As one of the earlier reviewers of the new premises, we’d love to be part of spreading that word. But we honestly can’t. OK, it’s hard to enjoy a meal in an empty restaurant at the best of times, but – doing our very best to leave that out of account – our meal rarely rose above a level you might describe as 'competent'.
It’s not that, with the exception of the main course we (unfortunately) both chose, there was very much wrong with our meal, just that there was at no point any tune you might – to use a West End analogy – want to go out of the theatre humming. Though the sourdough was nice, the other two breads failed to excite. An amuse of velouté was better. Game terrine was also good, but came with toast – rather than the 'correct' brioche you might expect at this sort of ambition-level – and good chutney. Our guest’s salmon tartare was also serviceable.
That main course of pollock and tomatoes, though, was a thumper of a disappointment – the taste of the latter completely overpowered the former, and the fish was undercooked to boot. Soufflés, however, were very competent, as were petits-fours, so it's a shame the coffee was decidedly unexciting.
Yes, it was early days. But the problem was that there was not a glimmer, on our visit, of the quality that, for those in the know, has made the original restaurant a real destination.
Perhaps we were just unlucky. Perhaps they’re 'getting there'. We really do hope so. But we feel that what this restaurant urgently needs to do is to put itself on the map. How about a big brash lunchtime offer, of a introductory menu priced to draw the punters in, and to give the place the place some buzz...and the sort of prospects we hope it will ultimately deserve?
Just a thought.