A much-heralded no-nonsense British newcomer, in Bayswater, heavily influenced by owner Tom Pemberton’s experience at St John Bread & Wine; though the food is generally sound, the overall experience fell short of our expectations.
Michael Winner sometimes notes how, to many in the ‘hospitality’ industry, a smile is as ‘a silver cross to a vampire’. So it was on our visit to this much-awaited newcomer. To be fair, it wasn’t the waiting staff who scowled at us, but the proprietor, Tom Pemberton – the ex-St John Bread & Wine man who is also the chef. Unfortunately, first impressions count, and if your going to put your kitchen up front, the chef/proprietor really needs to remember to smile at the customers, or at least to try.
Of course he may have been preoccupied by some behind-the-scene problem. Perhaps it was the staff issue: the waiters may have been more immediately affable than he was, but they did not compensate for the absence of greeting with particular zeal, professionalism or attentiveness. In fact – that man again – we felt at certain points that Winneresque napkin-waving was the only way we might hope to get any sort of attention.
Given the service, or rather lack of it, we had plenty of time to contemplate our surroundings, and our conclusion was that the all-white rear dining room, punctuated by dark-wood fittings and with a huge circular sky-light can seem cold on a grey Bayswater day. For parties of two, the American-diner-style banquette seating, towards the front of the restaurant, is almost certainly to be preferred.
No one has ever gone to the St John group restaurants for the ambience, though, and this place is surely really all about the food. What we had was hard to criticise, but equally tough to get too excited about. Bread, which might have been expected to be a highlight and came somewhat poncily half-toasted was ordinary. The aim of the menu is much-in-vogue, British directness and simplicity. But the realisation of pretty much everything we ate – including main courses of crab, guinea fowl and pork – was competent and no more. Nice to have on your doorstep, but no reason to cross many postcodes for. Even the puddings – in all their potentially sinful sticky date, rhubarby, pear-tart and ice-creamy lusciousness – didn’t induce any eager plate scraping.
We should note that other reviewers have been more fortunate than we were – indeed, some have been swept away by the food. Let’s hope our experience was atypical.