Harden's survey result
The “ornate surroundings” – “one of the country’s most spectacular pub interiors”, in St John’s Wood – make an “eccentric” setting in which to enjoy “above average Lebanese specialities”. Owned by Maroush, the group have successfully ditched the more traditional British formula they trialled initially, to focus on what they do best. Irrespective of eating, the place is worth a visit “just for the building” alone. Crocker, a Victorian entrepreneur, built his epic gin palace here – in what seems like the middle of nowhere – in the misguided expectation that it would become a major railway terminus.
“This most impressive and original of London’s 19th-century pubs” – a monumental pile built by the said Mr Crocker in the misplaced belief that a huge railway terminus would be built in St John’s Wood – “could be really wonderful”. Its owners of the last few years, Maroush Group, have struggled to make their mark, but – bizarre as it may seem – its recent ditching of a British menu to focus on the Lebanese cuisine that made the group’s name seems like a good first step.
The “gorgeous interior” and “spectacular Victorian features” justify a visit to this “ornately decorated” former hotel in St John’s Wood (Frank Crocker built it anticipating a railway terminus opposite, but went bust when they decided to end the line in Marylebone instead). Shame that the food – British, despite the Lebanese Maroush group ownership – is “too pricey”.
Praise for this monumental, St John’s Wood, gin palace – “lavishly restored” by the Lebanese Maroush group, but with a British menu – is primarily aimed at its “extraordinarily beautiful” Victorian setting; the food is “unexciting” though and service “needs to improve” – perhaps the curse of Crocker strikes again? (Frank Crocker went bust in 1898 when he built this as a railway hotel… but they moved the station).
|Wine per bottle||£22.00|
Crocker’s Folly came into being, the legend goes, because Mr Crocker had worked out where a new railway terminal was to be built, and built a temple of hospitality there to benefit from all the anticipated passing trade. But he was wrong. It was built not in St John’s Wood, but Marylebone. Ruined by the expense of his misbegotten hostelry, he committed suicide by jumping off the roof.
Let’s hope the legend is not to be repeated. The Mr Crocker of our day is the Maroush group - established restaurateurs, you might think - who have clearly spent a fortune rescuing this potential gem.
The first problem is glaringly obvious as you arrive: the site - devoid of any obvious local transport hub, never mind a railway station - is obscure.
The second problem, one may guess, is that the Maroush group is Lebanese (specialising, as it happens, in high-traffic west London locations) and this is their first European venture. Hmm, what does that bring to mind? Ah yes, One Kensington, the Tamarind (Indian) group’s effort at ‘doing an English’, which lasted all of six months…and the site of which is about to revert to being Indian (welcome back Zaika).
It’s not, to be very clear, that this is a bad or mean production, but precisely the opposite. One is humbled by not just the expense but also the love which has clearly gone into rescuing this vast and elegant building. It might sound fanciful, but the stunning chandeliers, at least for this writer, evoked nothing less than the ‘galerie des Glaces’ at Versailles.
The service, if not yet quite as highly polished as the light fittings, is clearly Trying Very Hard too. And even the food is not bad. But the overall ‘offer’, to use the trade’s term, is odd. Surely what this isolated spot cries out for is a menu that can be all things to many people? A place where you can turn up at any time and be sure of finding something you really want to eat. Some variation on a Gallic brasserie format, for example, might surely have been ideal? (The setting is perhaps too grand to work as a straight ‘gastropub’.)
What you actually find is a slender menu - so physically insignificant we originally overlooked it - which offers just four starters (or three if you exclude the beef tartare, regarded as unacceptably odd by many English people), and not many more main courses (if you exclude the steak options).
The starters, such as mi-cuit salmon, or slow-cooked octopus, came fancily plated with blobs of this and a blob of that, but were enjoyable enough. Meat came in notably - arguably excessively - generous portions, but both the steaks (from the inevitable Josper Grill) and the lamb were somewhat on the tepid side, and, in the former case, not cooked as ordered. Chips were fine. We had no space for pudding.
The short and oddly configured menu is set off by a wine list whose much more impressive presentation reflects its much more extensive content: it offers considerable variety, both in style and price. But if we had been the sort of punters minded to order a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (£667) or of ChÃ¢teau Brane-Cantenac (£274), is it not likely that we would have expected to be told what vintages we were considering? Yet this extensive list is bizarrely devoid of year-of-origin data: not something we can ever recall (not) seeing before, at least at these sorts of prices!
As we left this still quite empty establishment, this general feeling of oddness was the principal sentiment with which we stole away into the night. Let's hope it was just the ghost of Crocker, and that by tweaking this (potentially good value) formula Maroush can avoid a folly of their own.
23-24 Aberdeen Pl, London, NW8 8JR
|Number of Diners:|
|Monday||5 pm-2 am|
|Tuesday||5 pm-2 am|
|Wednesday||5 pm-2 am|
|Thursday||5 pm-2 am|
|Friday||5 pm-2 am|
|Saturday||2 pm-2 am|
|Sunday||2 pm-2 am|