In its former incarnation – can you use that word about a fish restaurant? – this long-established Clerkenwell site often seemed to want for custom. Its new proprietor, Raymond de Fazio, knows a bit about quiet restaurants: he backed Osia, in the Haymarket, which was critically acclaimed, but quickly closed for want of custom. Fortunately for him, however, he also owns a major share in the Café Med and Mediterranean Kitchen chains, which – if not critical ‘raves’ – are generally far from quiet.
Mr de Fazio’s background helps one understand his new venture, which offers cooking that’s rather better -and more adventurous – than you might expect. The style and quality of my seabass ceviche, for example, made much more sense once I knew that chef Konrad Inghelram used to work at Osia. Likewise my pudding of trifle with Roquefort and caramel – it may have been a bit odd, but was also quite interesting. The chef is perhaps less at home with true British classics, but my fish, chips ‘n’ mushy peas was never less than workmanlike.
Mr De Fazio’s establishments are not always the most atmospheric, and the slightly ‘dead’ feel of the former régime had not, at least in the early days of the new one, been quite eradicated (friendly service notwithstanding). The butcher’s-shop décor, little changed, is perhaps part of the problem. And the printed menu, with no daily specials, subliminally suggests that the diner is in for an uninspired, chain-style experience. This, it turns out, is simply unfair to the food.
‘¢ Every year at about this time, we seek real Londoners’ views on their dining-out experiences, to help us prepare the following year’s edition of Harden’s London Restaurants. If you’re not on our list, and would like to participate, please register now at www.hardens.com.