Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Reviews

Text

Fed up with celebrity chefs drizzling sauces over undercooked pieces of meat? I am!

I regularly dine out and am happy to share my restaurant experiences, and views on food, with you.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Oscars - The Croydon Park Hotel

Restaurant

Oscar’s
The Croydon Park Hotel
7 Altyre Road
Croydon

Website http://www.croydonparkhotel.co.uk

Phone:- 0208 680 9200

Overview

Oscar's has been open for many years. It offers a buffet carvery and an a la carte menu, for lunch and dinner; together with an English and continental buffet breakfast in the mornings. It comprises a spacious split level dining room, with a central buffet area and carving trolley. It is situated on the ground floor of the hotel next to the gas-lit bar.

My parents and myself went there last night for dinner (Eva is visiting family and friends in Sweden).

Ambience

The restaurant is bright and spacious, towards the back of the restaurant is a raised area where there are additional tables which are used when the restaurant is busy. Above the large buffet area is a back lit glass ceiling, which acts as an attractive focal point (should you enjoy looking at ceilings!).

The tables are traditionally laid with linen tablecloths and napkins. The staff are very friendly and polite, indeed as a frequent traveller I find it particularly refreshing to find a hotel and restaurant with such a friendly atmosphere. They manage to create a family atmosphere that is rare in hotels of this size.

We were warmly greeted by the head waiter and shown to our table, which was regrettably (for the head waiter, who endured some minutes of my father’s views on the subject) placed between two pillars (our normal table was apparently occupied by friends of the manager). We were offered another but chose to stay there as it was convenient for the buffet. I suspect that won’t happen again!

I would draw management’s attention to one issue that rankles. During the meal the ambient temperature was agreeable (the restaurant is air conditioned); however, after 10:30PM as the tables were being made ready for breakfast the air-conditioning was set to “cool”. I am a natural cynic, and suspect this was done to speed the remaining guests departure. To my view this is not acceptable, I would request that you please refrain from doing this again.

Menu

The restaurant offers both a la carte and three course, eat as much as you want, buffet. The latter consists of a wide variety of starters (including smoked salmon, parma ham, melon, fresh fruits, eggs and salads) which guests help themselves to from the chilled buffet. The main courses (such as lamb, fish or chicken) are again self service buffet or a roast joint on a covered trolley carved for you by the staff. Desserts are presented in the chilled buffet area.

Service

The service is attentive, friendly and efficient. Bread rolls, butter and menus were presented as soon as we had sat down.

Food

We all opted for the buffet. My mother, taking an extra course, had the tomato and pepper soup; which she was very impressed with. Then we made our way to the buffet for the starters. We each took a good selection of the delicacies on offer on our plates, including smoked salmon, eggs mayonnaise, prawns, parma ham and lobster. Full marks, very fresh and of good quality.

Since this was the last Sunday before Christmas the carving trolley, not surprisingly, had a turkey on it. However, in deference to those people who did not want to overload on turkey there was also a joint of beef. Family Frost opted for the latter, which was cooked medium and was succulent and tasty. The vegetables on the buffet included roast and boiled potatoes, Brussels, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. The vegetables were well cooked and flavoursome, although the Brussels were a little overcooked.

I managed to have room for another visit to the buffet; this time opting for garlic chicken, excellent.

My mother had room for dessert (she tried three different cream laden desserts), my father and I managed a Remy Martin each.

The overall meal, which included two bottles of a Chablis and pre dinner aperitifs, came to £150 before tip; I believe this to be good value.

Overall Opinion

I am happy to recommend this; and would suggest that it is ideal for multi generational family meals. There is always something for everyone, and it offers the opportunity to eat a hearty roast without having to spend hours cooking it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Follow Up to Mama Amalfi

I received an email from another dissatisfied customer of Mama Amalfi today, here is an extract:

"...Dear Ken

I was very interested with your website - at last a website to get genuine feedback on restaurants in the Croydon area.

I too visited Mama Amalfi with friends. The staff had a "can't be bothered" attitude. They took ages to come and take your order. When the order finally arrived the food was cold. The main course took ages to arrive (in fact 2 hours!) and then the same for the dessert.

Myself and my Husband had to dash off and leave our poor friends to deal with the bill otherwise we would have missed our last train home..... and we had to settle the money with them later. I had booked this restaurant in good faith (its looks wonderful from the outside - how misleading) and had told them that it looked "good" - how wrong I was - it was so embarrassing! I really do no know why people eat there - I definitely will never book a table there again....."

Extracts of my response:

"...Many thanks for your note. Sorry to hear you had a bad time at Mama's.

It is a shame, because I remember when it opened some 8 (I think) years ago, it was good; live opera singers in the basement on Fridays etc.

How thíngs change! Very silly, as there is far more competition in the restaurant trade in Croydon now; so they ought to be on their toes.

I am inclined to drop them a note inviting them to view my website.

We were lucky, we walked out before sitting down!

Never mind Croydon has many other (good) restaurants, put it down to experience.

Hope you are enjoying my website, as it continues to grow.

Please keep visiting...."

Maybe the owners of Mama Amalfi would care to respond to this?

Monday, November 25, 2002

Restaurant

Mama Amalfi
18 George Street
Croydon

Phone:- 0208 688 5787

Overview

Eva and I made a reservation for 9:00PM Saturday night. We arrived on time and were shown to our table.

This was poorly situated, being positioned at the left hand side of the archway leading from the bar to the main restaurant area. It was far too close to the table behind it, had I sat down I would have been bumping chairs with the person behind me. Eva’s position was no better; her chair was squashed (by the table) far too close to the wall behind her, and on her left was a large plant which would have intruded into her personal space.

Needless to say we did not accept the table, and requested a better one. We were told that the restaurant was busy, and that there were no others..very much a take it or leave it attitude! We left it, and went elsewhere.

Here is a list of points that I suggest the management address:

1. When a restaurant accepts a booking they should ensure that they can accommodate the customer; if it is full then don’t take the booking.

2. Don’t assume that customers will accept being crammed into their tables, in the manner of a fast food chain, we (the customers) won’t accept that.

3. Should the restaurant be busier than anticipated when the booking was made; then apologise, offer a drink at the bar and ask if the customer would be prepared to wait.

4. Mama Amalfi has seating in the basement, as well as on the ground floor. Should the restaurant be in a fortunate position of being busy on the ground floor, then open up the basement and offer people some decently spaced tables.

Needless to say we will not bother returning, until the management prove to my satisfaction that they have addressed these issues. Your choice guys, you will be out of business if you don’t!

Overall Opinion

Don’t waste your time or money going there, Croydon is overflowing with restaurants, many of which still remember that the customer should not be taken for granted.


Friday, November 15, 2002

Restaurant

Quaglino’s
16 Bury Street
London
SW1Y 6AL

Phone:- 0207 930 6767

Overview

Quaglino’s claims to be one of London’s trendier restaurants; based in the heart of The West End, it offers a restaurant, bar and private dining room on two open plan floors.

I was out last night for a few drinks with three chums from my days in KPMG, and we found ourselves looking for something to eat at around 9:00PM. Our first choice, Rowley’s in Jermyn Street, was full; so we ambled along to Quag’s.

Ambience

The restaurant and bar is decorated in the modern “in your face” style. I am more of a traditionalist in taste, and I have to confess that the size/height of the room and the half glazed ceiling resembled a cross between a greenhouse and a barn. Some tables were laid with tablecloths others were not, these unlaid tables were bright red and presumably there to add colour. The private dining room situated on the top floor overlooks the restaurant, and resembles the directors’ boxes one sees at football stadiums.

The bar is situated on the top floor, and to one side of this there was a jazz band playing reasonably decent tunes.

When we arrived we were greeted by one of the many staff (all dressed in black). He seemed concerned that we had not booked, and that in order for him to check to see if we could be accommodated he pressed us to have a drink at the bar first. One of my chums politely, but firmly, pointed out that there were quite a few empty tables and that we would take one of these now “thank you very much!”. We were shown to a red table (obviously for naughty people who don’t do as they are told).

Menu

The restaurant offers a reasonably varied menu comprising amongst others; pork, rabbit, chicken livers and steak.

Service

The service is professional and efficient. When we sat down we were promptly offered our menus and bread. Rather oddly there were no side plates for the bread; I assume, therefore, that Quag’s is so proud of its hygiene they feel you can eat off the table directly.

Food

I started with chicken livers on rösti potatoes, with a rocket salad. I have to say these were very well cooked; succulent, tender and lightly pink. The rösti, which can sometimes be greasy and unpleasant, was cooked to perfection. I chose the roast shoulder pork with apple sauce as my main course. I have to say that this was quite good, a good sized portion of pork had been sliced reasonably thinly and was presented on a plate with a thin (in my view slightly overpowering) jus/gravy; together with good quality crackling and apple sauce. A side dish of traditional chips (not fat drenched reconstituted fries) came as an accompaniment.

One of my chums also opted for starter, the crayfish, which he seemed pleased with. The main courses that my friends opted for were, pork, steak with a bernaise sauce and saddle of rabbit.

The steak was tender and cooked slightly rare, I tested it and think it was good. The sauce bernaise was absolutely superb; rich, creamy and one hell of a big portion! We all ended up dipping our chips in it!

The rabbit was generous, two thickly cut saddles and by all accounts tender and tasty.

I finished off with an Irish coffee, which was good, and a small chohiba panatela (cigar to you and me); this was sold by a very short skirted cigarette girl (more reminiscent of restaurants from the fifties) who kindly chopped the end off for me. I would say that the price, £12.50, was an absolute disgrace. Next time I will ask the price first!

The overall meal, which included one bottle of Casa Merlot, two Irish coffees, my cigar and a glass of wine came to £146 including 12.5% service and a mysterious £1 “street smart” charge (whatever that is, could someone enlighten me?).

Overall Opinion

Overall I would say Quag’s is a bit of a curate’s egg, the food is good but in my opinion it is overpriced and the ambience is not to my taste. I suppose for that part of London we could have been ripped off in worse places; so as my father would say “you pay’s your money and takes your choice”.


Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Restaurant

The Grand Divan
Simpson’s in the Strand
100 Strand
London
WC2R 0EW

Phone:- 0207 836 9112

Website
http://www.simpson’s-in-the-strand.com

Overview

Simpson’s is part of the Savoy group (indeed the hotel is next door) and is one of London’s top class restaurants, offering traditional English cooking; breakfast, lunch and dinner. It comprises a number of restaurants, function rooms and bars on two floors.

Myself and three chums from university went to the Grand Divan (the restaurant on the ground floor) on Monday night, for a boys’ night out.

Ambience

The restaurant is traditional in décor, attitude and service; which resembles a gentleman's club from the Victorian era. The dining room offers tables or booths, all are fully laid with white tablecloths, linen napkins, silver cutlery and a variety of glasses for water and wine.

As befits a quality restaurant, that prides itself on its cuisine, Simpson’s expects people to take pride in their appearance, as a courtesy to others; as such you are required to wear a jacket and tie.

When we arrived we were courteously greeted by one of the many waiters, and shown to our table. The restaurant was almost full, and so it is advisable to book.

Menu

The restaurant offers an extensive menu comprising traditional British dishes such as roast beef (carved on the trolley), potted shrimps, rack of lamb, steak and kidney pudding and steamed sponge pudding.

Service

The service is attentive, courteous and professional. When we sat down we were promptly offered our menus, bread rolls and napkins which were unfolded and placed on our laps.

Within five minutes of receiving our gin an tonics, one of my friends had succeeded in knocking his over. Instead of fussing over changing the tablecloth we were promptly offered another table, instead of disturbing us by relaying the table with us sitting there.

Food

I started with smoked salmon, simply served on a large plate with a slice of lemon and buttered brown bread. This was very good, and an ideal starter if you are following on with a heavy meal. My main course was an easy choice, roast beef from the trolley. The joint is carved in front of you, and you are offered a choice of well done or rare. The chef is happy to carve as much or as little as you wish.

I opted for a large portion together with and extra slice of fat, very unhealthy but absolutely mouth watering. The beef is served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and cabbage. Should you wish other vegetables the menu offers you a choice. Additionally, they are flexible enough to provide you with things not on the menu, for example you can even order bubble and squeak. The food was excellent, the beef succulent, tender and flavoursome; clearly it had been properly hung thereby allowing the flavour to mature and the meat to tenderise naturally.

My friends opted to start with potted shrimps, but all went for the same main course. Dessert was easy, four steamed sponge puddings with custard. Very sweet, moist and filling.

We finished off with some malt whisky.

The overall meal, which included two bottles of Croze Hermitage, four gins, four whiskies and mineral water, came to £275.

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of the more reliable London restaurants, well worth a visit by locals or tourists.


Saturday, October 26, 2002

Restaurant

La Rueda
102 Wigmore Street
London
W1U 3RL

Phone:- 0207 486 1718

Overview

La Rueda is a Spanish restaurant, situated just a few minutes walk from Selfridges. It comprises a wine bar, tapas bar and Spanish restaurant on the ground floor.

Eva and I visited it on Thursday, having spent the day shopping on Oxford Street. The summary of our evening is set out below.

Ambience

The restaurant is divided into two distinct “zones”. The front part comprises the wine and tapas bar, the back part comprises the restaurant. Both parts are quite large and offer seating for a good number of people, being the West End both the tapas bar and restaurant rapidly filled up during the course of the evening.

When we arrived, at about 6:30PM, we had initially only intended to come in for a bottle of wine. Therefore, we sat at the bar situated on the right hand side of the tapas bar. The bar had sufficient stools, and space, to accommodate around 6-8 people; there were bowls of olives placed at intervals on the counter.

Menus for tapas were readily to hand, and it was possible to have the tapas at the bar or sitting at a table. The atmosphere was friendly and sociable; consequently we decided to stay for dinner. I asked if it would be possible to book a table for 7:30PM, no problem. Had we come later we would have had to wait, as the place was packed by 9:00PM.

The décor to the tapas bar had rustic Spanish feel with an emphasis on wood, the ceiling was lined with rows and rows of wine bottles. This contrasted to the light yellow walls and tiled floor of the restaurant.

Whilst the tables in the tapas bar were not covered, the restaurant tables were more formally laid with white tablecloths and yellow napkins. Our table was ready for us at 7:30PM, with butter and bread rolls already in position.

The main lighting to the restaurant was provided by lights set on wagon wheels suspended from the ceiling. The wall lights were shaded by upturned wicker baskets.

The restaurant was airy and had a family atmosphere, very Mediterranean!

The restaurant is very well staffed, given how busy it became, it needed to be. We were greeted in a professional and friendly manner.

Menu

The menu offered an extensive selection of Spanish cuisine, including; three different types of paella, lamb, veal, kidneys, chicken in garlic, stuffed poussin, frogs legs and numerous fish dishes. The tapas menu, by the way, was also very large and included; omelette, chicken, chopped liver, potatoes and prawns. I asked if I could have a tapas dish for a starter and our waiter was happy to oblige.

Service

The service is friendly, efficient and prompt. As soon as we were seated we were offered our menus, and our orders swiftly taken. The busy atmosphere of the restaurant does not afford the staff time to engage in idle banter with the customers; they concentrated on diligently carrying out their duties with commendable efficiency.

We were thanked for our custom by the owner when we left, a nice touch.

Food

I took a tapas dish, fabada, as a starter. This is a mixture of cannellini beans and pork. It contained a good quantity of pork but would, in my opinion, have benefited from being seasoned a little more adventurously (ie it needed a little bit of a “kick”); I have a preference for spice. Nonetheless very enjoyable, and worth having.

I followed on with the cochinillo (roast suckling pig), served with a very generous portion of home made sauté potatoes, broccoli and carrots. This consisted of three good sized cuts of pork on the backbone. It was well cooked and succulent. My only criticism would be that the crackling didn’t crackle. Maybe a little more salt rubbed into the skin before cooking would have helped this process, but speaking from personal experience crackling can be temperamental. On a personal level I think that apple sauce would make a good accompaniment to this dish, but everyone has different tastes.

Eva decided that she would just have a main course, and so had the seafood paella. A very large portion was served, and the dish contained an extensive array of seafood including; prawns, scallops, mussels and clams. The rice had been cooked, as it should have been, in fish stock; and was very well flavoured. Eva was delighted with her choice.

One slip of her fork during the meal, rather bizarrely, caused a scallop to fly across into the pocket of a gentleman sitting at the next table. We, to our shame, decided discretion would be the better part of valour; and did not tell him. I hope that the piece of seafood has been found and removed, apologies for any inconvenience.

We finished our meal off with a couple of Irish coffees, these were properly made and were piping hot.

The overall meal, which included two bottles of good quality Chardonnay, came to £75 including the suggested 10% service charge.

Overall Opinion

Very enjoyable, definitely a pleasant surprise given the location and the propensity of some establishments in the West End to be no more than tourist “rip offs”. I have no hesitation in recommending it.


Sunday, October 20, 2002

Restaurant

Aphrodite
19 Westow Street
Crystal Palace
SE19 3RY

Phone:- 0208 653 9895

Overview

Aphrodite, as the name implies, is a Greek restaurant. It comprises a cheerful, compact restaurant on the ground floor.

Eva and I visited it last Saturday, here is a precis of our evening.

Ambience

The restaurant is compact, to the extent that depending on the table allocated, you may find yourself seated quite close to your fellow diners. The restaurant was very busy, and it is advisable to book ahead. It has a lively, friendly atmosphere which is evocative of the Greek theme. We had made the booking in the afternoon for 9:00PM that evening, and were given a good table (set slightly apart from the other tables) at the head of the restaurant; this gave us a panoramic view of the comings and goings of Aphrodite.

The décor is cheerful and bright; the top half of the walls are a light yellow the bottom half blue. On one wall a mural of a sea view has been painted. A statue of Aphrodite adorns one corner of the room. The polished wood floor contrasts well with the wooden tables and chairs, which are stained dark brown.

One slightly comic distraction related to our table, which had an annoying wobble. Finding the nearest solution to hand I folded up a piece of pitta bread and put it under the leg; problem solved!

Not unsurprisingly the background music is Greek, this is a positive enhancement to the atmosphere.

The restaurant is well staffed, and diners are greeted in a professional and friendly manner.

Menu

The menu offers a good selection of Greek food including; meze, tzatziki, octopus, Baklava and stuffed peppers.

Service

The service is friendly and efficient. As soon as we were seated we were offered our menus, a complimentary bowl of olives and chilli peppers; together with a basket of warm pitta bread.

Food

I kicked off with the stuffed red pepper, this was succulent and tasty; containing a well balanced filling of rice and minced lamb. It was served with a sour cream dip, in my opinion it makes an ideal starter.

I followed on with the Kleftico (a shank of lamb, braised in the oven), served with roast potatoes and carrots. This was well cooked, the meat literally fell off the bones, juicy and had a hint of garlic. I would readily have this again.

Eva started with smoked ham and deep fried Halloumi cheese. The cheese had a slight rubbery consistency and was, in Eva’s opinion, a little too salty. She chose moussaka as a main course, accompanied by a Greek salad. The moussaka was served in an earthenware pot, and came to the table bubbling hot. It was rich and creamy. However, Eva felt (and on testing it myself I would agree) that the proportion of cheese to meat was not entirely correct; namely too much cheese and not enough meat. Additionally, I feel that the dish would have benefited from additional seasoning during the cooking process.

We had intended to have a dish of deep fried mushrooms as a shared accompaniment to our main courses. However, owing to a misunderstanding between myself, the waiter and the chef; this dish, much like “Banquo’s ghost”, made three repeat appearances during and after my starter. Recognising defeat, I decided not to send it away for the third time; and we ate it as a second course before our main course arrived.

We finished our meal off with a glass of ouzo each.

The overall meal, which included a bottle of dry Greek white wine, came to £44 before tip.

Suggestions

I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:

 Adjust the meat cheese ratio, and the seasoning, in the moussaka.

 Place pepper mills on each table, it wastes both diners’ and waiters’ time in having to request and serve the pepper.

Overall Opinion

A fun place, and worth a visit; we will go again.


Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Restaurant

The Banana Leaf
7 Lower Addiscombe Road
Croydon
CR0 6PQ

Phone:- 0208 688 0297

Website http://www.a222.co.uk/bananaleaf

Overview

The Banana Leaf is a local Indian restaurant that serves traditional South Indian cuisine. It has been open since 1988, and has received many awards for its cuisine; such as winning the London Curry Chef of the year in 2002 and being a national finalist in the Curry Chef of the Year Competition in 2002. It comprises a bright airy restaurant and small bar on the ground floor, together with additional seating in the basement. It offers both dine in and takeaway.

Eva, I and Kajsa (Eva’s daughter, who is visiting us from Sweden) visited it on Monday evening and had a very good meal there.

Ambience

The restaurant does not follow the “tradition” favoured by many other Indian restaurants; by decorating itself in the dark reds more appropriate, in my opinion, for brothels. Instead it has opted for a pleasing colour co-ordinated style which is both light, cheerful and refreshing. The top half of the walls are painted light yellow (and are decorated with award certificates for the cuisine), the bottom half being exposed brickwork. The tables are laid with well pressed fresh white tablecloths and mint green linen napkins. Each table has a single artificial red rose in a small vase. The ceiling has the old fashioned rotary fans, infinitely more pleasant than air-conditioning, which add atmosphere.

In the far left hand corner of the restaurant is a small bar which has a few stools on which customers, waiting for their table or takeaway, can sit and enjoy a drink; whilst admiring the collection of silver trophies (won for cuisine) proudly displayed on the bar.

The background music is traditional Indian, about which I am ashamed to say I know nothing, it adds atmosphere but it is not intrusive.

When we arrived we were warmly greeted by one of the many waiters. It being a Monday night and late (9:45PM), it was not busy so we were able to sit where we pleased.

Menu

The restaurant offers an extensive menu comprising familiar Indian dishes, such as; Balti, Madras and Korma. More importantly, in keeping with the regional Indian emphasis, dishes such as Dosai (crispy stuffed pancakes), Vadai (doughnut savoury snacks), Goan and spicy marinated lamb predominate.

Service

The service is attentive, friendly, efficient and dignified. The food is attractively presented, and arrives at the same time.

Food

I started with a dish of lamb, potato and herbs formed into two large oval shapes; sealed with a crispy flour based coating and deep fried. Absolutely delicious, the combination of meat, potato and herbs was well balanced; the dish could be a light meal in itself.

Eva ordered a masala dosai, a crispy pancake stuffed with spiced potato and onion, for her starter. The length of the dosai is approximately 24 inches, and is designed to be shared by two people by cutting it in half. The chef, seeing that there were three of us (having ensured that the filling was evenly stuffed along its entire length), served the dish cut into three equal portions. It was excellent, and well complemented by the coconut chutney; Kajsa, Eva and I all enjoyed it.

My main course was chilli chicken, chicken breast cooked with ginger and fresh green chillies. The chef will vary the strength according to your taste, but I would suggest that this dish is suited to those with a palette (such as mine) that appreciates spicy food. That being said, any fool can put excess spices in a dish that will burn your mouth but will not add value to your eating experience. I am happy to say that the chef achieved heat but with taste and flavour, ie the combination of ingredients were properly balanced so that not one individual element dominated the taste.

Eva chose king prawn korma, prawns in a mild coconut based sauce, which she was very pleased with. I would note that the prawns were plentiful and king size; not the rather small sad shrimps offered by other establishments.

Kajsa took chicken in a sauce which was a pleasing combination of banana and cream, she was happy with her choice which had both a pleasant taste and texture.

I would like to add that, unlike some Indian restaurants which serve sauces that have a layer of fat floating on the surface, not one of the dishes presented to us contained such an abomination.

We shared our side dishes which consisted of boiled plain rice and yellow rice (both fluffy and not glutinous), together with potato dry masala (dry cooked spiced potato cubes) which was very tasty.

I rounded off my meal with a couple of Jamesons. Kajsa had an chocolate ice cream sundae, Eva (like the dosai) was stuffed and ate a small chocolate mint.

The overall meal, which included one bottle of very good Chablis, and a couple of glasses of lemonade, came to £66 including the suggested 10% service charge before tip; very good value.

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of the better Indian restaurants, well worth a visit by people who want a good meal. Lager drinking yobs in search of a mouth burning vindaloo, who tend to gravitate to other establishments, are not welcome, wanted or indeed evident among the clientele. An ideal place to bring your family and loved ones.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Restaurant

Maggie Jones’s
6 Old Court Place
Kensington Church Street
London
W8 4PL

Phone:- 0207 937 6462

Overview

It is a sad fact of life that some restaurants can be variable, offering a great time one evening and a disappointment another. I have been frequenting Maggie Jones’s for over ten years now, and can honestly say that I have never had a disappointing meal there.

Eva, I and Kajsa (Eva’s daughter) visited it last Sunday, and I am happy to report another enjoyable experience.

It comprises a rustic style English restaurant on three floors.

Ambience

The restaurant is decorated in a traditional English rustic style, furnished to evoke the atmosphere of a cosy farmhouse; with wooden tables, chairs, benches and intimate booths set against a backdrop of dried straw and grass sheaths, antique farm equipment and other “nic nacks” hanging from the ceiling and placed on shelves around the rooms. You can easily forget that you are in London.

The atmosphere suits all types of occasions from romantic dinners, business meals to larger gatherings. The restaurant is always busy and you should book; be warned that if you are late you may well loose your reservation. Should you wish to sit on a particular floor, or reserve a booth, then mention this when booking; the staff will try to accommodate you.

The tables are decorated with potted plants and candles in wine bottles. One nice touch is that the salt and pepper are in small bowls, enabling you to take a pinch and sprinkle it over your food.

When we arrived we were greeted in a professional and courteous manner by one of the many staff, and promptly shown to our table. The restaurant, as expected, was busy and it had been wise to make a reservation.

Menu

The restaurant offers an extensive selection of traditional English food including, but most certainly not limited to: quiche, home-made soup, stuffed roast chicken, roast pork, rabbit, venison, steak, steak pie, sausages, game, bread and butter pudding. Specials are shown on the blackboards dotted around the restaurant.

Service

The service is attentive, courteous and professional. On being seated we were promptly offered our menus, bread and a small dish of carrots and cucumber in a vinaigrette dressing.

Food

I started with salmon parcels stuffed with crab. This consisted of two good sized parcels of smoked salmon generously stuffed with fresh crab; very tasty and moist with a good texture. They were placed on a bed of rocket leaves, with a quarter of fresh lemon, and made an ideal starter.

I tried the saddle of lamb, from the “specials”, for my main course. I was offered a choice of garlic or rosemary (I chose both) as a flavour enhancer, and also asked how I would like it done, a good sign that it is freshly cooked; I chose medium. The lamb was a generous cut (taken at 90 degrees to the back bone) from the saddle and was cooked to my specification. The rosemary and garlic added flavour, but did not overpower it. The lamb was tender and succulent, a very good choice; I used my hands and teeth to take the final vestiges of meat from the back bone.

I rounded off the meal with a Remy Martin, no room for the dessert.

Eva started with potted shrimps, presented without the ramekin in which they were made, served with a very large portion of hot toast and butter. She was pleased with her choice. Her main course was a grilled salmon steak, very large, succulent and served with a side dish of hollandaise sauce. The latter was so good that she asked for second dish of sauce, no problem at all.

Eva had no room for a dessert either!

Kajsa decided to take it easy and not have starter. She chose the rack of lamb for a main course; again she was, quite correctly, asked how she wanted it cooked. The lamb was a good sized portion of four ribs cooked well done, as requested, yet succulent and tasty. It was evident that she enjoyed it as she employed her fingers towards the end; and picked the ribs up to clean the meat from them.

Kajsa had an apple crumble with custard for dessert; hot, sweet and sticky.

We shared a selection of vegetables which consisted of a large bowl of sauté potatoes (cut thin yet moist), boiled new potatoes in their skins firm but properly cooked (the best way to enjoy them) and cauliflower baked in a rich (but not overpowering) cheese sauce.

The overall meal, which included one bottle of Malbec and one bottle of Malvern water, came to £113 including the suggested 12.5% service charge (which I felt had been earned by the staff).

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of London’s better restaurants, one that I rely on to entertain friends and visitors alike.


Restaurant

La Brasa
108a Croydon High Street
Croydon

Phone:- 0208 760 9610

Overview

La Brasa has been open for some two years now, owned and managed by Cesar Rodriguez. It comprises a cosy Argentinean restaurant, with a rural atmosphere, on the ground floor.

Eva, I and Kajsa (Eva’s daughter) visited it last Saturday, one of many evenings we have spent there over the last two years; each visit has been highly enjoyable.

Ambience

The restaurant is decorated in a rural Argentinean style, wood predominates the décor but not in an oppressive manner. A homely touch is added by the variety Argentinean “nic nacks” that are placed throughout the restaurant. The atmosphere suits all types of occasions from romantic dinners to parties.

The background music is an eclectic mixture of Latino, Abba and Tom Jones, played at a volume to suit the mood of the guests. Indeed, as the evening progresses people are encouraged to salsa with each other or the staff. As regards closing time, it is flexible, one evening we left at 3:00AM and I have heard a story of a party that went on to 5:00AM; in other words the restaurant operates on the relaxed Latin principle of staying open until the last customer leaves. We had an early evening leaving sat 1:30AM!

When we arrived we were very warmly welcomed by Cesar and his wife. I would point out that all customers, be they new or regulars, are equally warmly welcomed. The restaurant was busy and it is necessary to book. However, you can take a chance; one group of people arrived at 11.30PM and were given a table.

Menu

The restaurant offers a menu comprising Argentinean specialities such as steak with chimichurri sauce (a spicy medley of amongst others, coriander, tomatoes and parsley), chicken empanadas (a sort of chicken pasty), sea bass and a seafood paella.

Service

We were warmly greeted and shown to our table. The service is attentive, friendly but not intrusive.

Food

I started with corn on the cob with melted butter, this consisted of two good sized cobs which had been chargrilled. It was well cooked, and an enjoyable tactile experience to eat; of course you have to use your hands.

I followed on with half a chargrilled chicken with two fried eggs. The chicken was succulent and properly cooked, I did the dish justice and used my fingers at the end to pick the bones clean it was really good.

I rounded off the meal with an Irish coffee, which was hot and well presented.

Eva started with sauté calamares which were generous in quantity and succulent to eat, she thoroughly enjoyed them. Her main course choice was chicken breast with asparagus and banana in a cream sauce, her dish of choice on many occasions. Although the combination may sound unusual, it does work; and contains a good sized portion of chicken breasts.

Eva also had an Irish coffee, no room for a dessert either!

Kajsa started with the feta cheese salad; a very large bowl of, amongst others, feta cheese, avocado and lettuce. She felt that it was almost a meal in itself. She followed on with a quarter chargrilled chicken (no fried eggs!) which, like mine, was well cooked yet succulent. She had a hot pancake filled with ice cream in a fruit sauce for dessert, which she was very pleased with.

We all dipped into a large bowl of thick cut pomme frites, as the accompanying side dish. These are always cooked to a consistently high standard, and in no way resemble the fat injected cardboard “French fries” served by other establishments.

The overall meal, which included two bottles of a sauvignon blanc, came to £71 before tip; good value in my opinion.

Overall Opinion

Definitely one of our favourite restaurants; ten out of ten for service, atmosphere and food. I have absolutely no negative comments to make about it!


Monday, October 07, 2002

Restaurant

L´unico
265 Croydon High Street
Croydon
CR0 1QH

Phone:- 0208 688 7998

Overview

L´unico was opened in the last twelve months, on the site of another Italian restaurant. It comprises an intimate Italian restaurant on the ground floor.

Eva and I visited it last Saturday, and have been there a couple of times before; we have thoroughly enjoyed each visit.

Ambience

The restaurant is intimate, but not cramped, ideal for a romantic meal or larger civilised gathering. Although it is situated on the High Street, with its varied selection of passing/staggering “nightlife” on Fridays and Saturdays, the outside “hullabaloo” does not intrude.

The décor is soothing and balanced; the walls are light peach in colour and the floor polished hardwood. The tables are properly laid, with well pressed tablecloths and napkins.

The restaurant is well staffed, and we were very warmly welcomed by the manager. Although the restaurant is intimate and, being a Saturday, it was busy the atmosphere is not claustrophobic or intrusive. I would recommend booking, as all the tables were occupied when we dined there.

On our first visit there was a live guitarist playing, I hasten to add an acoustic not electric, guitar. This was very pleasant and non intrusive; I am not sure as to when, or how often, L´unico offer live music.

Menu

The restaurant is Italian, but offers something a little more than the standard “Spag bol” indeed the word bolognese does not appear anywhere on the imaginative menu. The extensive menu offers a range of fish, fowl, meat and pasta dishes-freshly made on the premises (the latter can be taken as a starter or main course).

Should you wish something that is not specified on the menu then ask, if the ingredients are available, they will be happy to cook it. On a previous visit, feeling particularly hungry, I asked for a couple of fried eggs to be served with my steak; no problem!

Service

As noted, we were warmly greeted and shown to our table. The service is attentive and friendly; as soon as we were seated we were offered our menus together with a complimentary bowl of olives and basket of bread.

Food

I started with the lasagne, which was firm and had body and texture; unlike some restaurants’ versions of lasagne it was not presented in a glutinous bubbling sauce that overpowered the pasta.

I followed on with the “pollo a diavola”, a spatch-cocked poussin cooked with chillies and garlic. This was excellent, a good size, very piquant (not too spicy) and succulent. The chicken needed the accompanying finger bowl as in order to get every piece of flesh from the carcass I had to use my hands (a very satisfying experience!).

The chicken came with sauté potatoes, which were well cooked and very tasty. I also ordered a side dish of peas and carrots for Eva and myself to share. Unfortunately, they were delayed and did not appear until we had more or less completed our main course. Although they looked good we sent them back, as eating vegetables on their own was a little pointless; needless to say we were not charged for this.

Feeling suitably replete I did not have a dessert; but rounded off the meal with an Irish coffee, which was hot and well presented.

Eva started with a good sized portion of mussels in a white wine sauce; she was very please with them. She then had veal escalope with Parma ham, in a sage and white wine sauce. She thought it was excellent; although, for her personal taste, she felt it would benefit from being presented with a little more sauce. Sauté potatoes were served as the accompaniment.

Eva also had an Irish coffee, we were then offered a complimentary liqueur. I had a dessert wine, which I must say was a little sharp for my taste, Eva had a Cointreau.

The overall meal, which included a good bottle of Chardonnay, came to a very reasonable £52 before tip.

Suggestions

I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:

 Serve the vegetables at the same time as the main course.

 Consider adding a sweeter dessert wine to the wine menu.

Overall Opinion

Definitely a cut above the average Italian restaurant. We both agree that we enjoyed our evening, and are very happy to recommend it to others.


Saturday, September 28, 2002

Restaurant

The Polka
20a Lower Addiscombe Road
Croydon
CR0 6AA

Phone:- 0208 686 2633

Overview

The Polka was established in the eighties; but was taken over in the last few months by a new owner, Guy Ngu, who aims to enhance the traditional Polish menu by offering a fusion of Far Eastern and European dishes. It comprises a restaurant on the ground floor, and a function room on the first floor.

Eva and I have visited it on several occasions over the past few years, and more recently since Guy took over. We are pleased to note that the decline that we witnessed in the quality of the food, that was evident in the final months of the old management, has been reversed. Guy takes a “hands on” approach with the menus and quality of food selected for serving. I particularly like the website, which gives a very detailed overview of the restaurant together with pictures and menus. You can visit it on:

http://www.polkas.co.uk

Ambience

The restaurant is bijou, but not cramped, decorated with Polish artefacts and “bric a brac”. In the far left corner is a small bar which boasts an extensive array of speciality vodkas. My particular favourites being Bison grass (quite potent!) and a vodka I haven’t seen since visiting Berlin some years ago, Danzig Goldwasser (a unique vodka that contains flecks of gold leaf; which are very good for the digestion - take my word for it!).

The restaurant is cosy and welcoming; ideal for a family gathering or romantic dinner for two. I would recommend booking, as all the tables were occupied when we dined there the other evening.

Under the previous owners Eva and I often found that the restaurant was a little chilly; we were pleased to note that this problem has now been addressed, and the ambient temperature was just right.

Menu

As noted above, the restaurant offers a variety of European and Far Eastern dishes; ranging from crispy butterfly prawns, steak tartar, pork dumplings to the house speciality (smoked sausage, dumplings and stuffed cabbage).

The wine list is complemented by a lengthy vodka list (both flavoured and plain, of various strengths); I personally recommend trying a “shot” before dinner. Unfortunately, owing to the limited size of the bar fridge, only a few types are ice cold.


Service

When we arrived we were warmly greeted by Guy who showed us to our table. The service is attentive and friendly, and should you want to try a main course as a starter there is no fuss or raising of eyebrows.

Whilst ordering, a selection of bread was brought to us; one of which, a cumin flavoured rye, was particularly pleasant.

Food

I started with the pate and toast, I would say (all due apologies to the chef) that although the portion was a good size the taste was a little bland; maybe a few drops of brandy would add a little zest to this dish. My forthcoming recipe book has quite a decent recipe for pate, samples of my favourite recipes can be found on my website:

http://www.kenfrost.com

I followed on with a good sized fillet of veal cooked in breadcrumbs with, at my own request, two fried eggs on top (the technical name for this dish is Holstein Schnitzel). I am very pleased to say that the veal was tender and succulent, not overcooked and dry as some restaurants are prone to serve.

Feeling suitably replete I could not manage a dessert; but rounded off the meal with an Irish coffee, which was hot and well presented.

Eva had meat stuffed dumplings with bacon lardons for her starter; they were excellent and I highly recommend them. Eva then had the pork loin stuffed with prunes in sauce. Although the portion was generous, the meat was a little tough.

As is the tradition of the Polka, we were offered a complimentary vodka each at the end of our meal.

The overall meal, which included two vodkas as apéritifs and a good bottle of Chablis, came to a reasonable £53 before tip.

Suggestions

I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:

 Install a good sized fridge to accommodate all the vodkas. Vodka should be served ice cold, not at room temperature.

 Take up a discussion with the butcher who supplied the pork to ensure that future cuts are tender.

 Change the pate recipe.

Overall Opinion

We both agree that we enjoyed our evening, and are happy to recommend it to others.


Thursday, September 19, 2002

Restaurant

Le Bien Manger
103-105 High Street
Croydon
UK

Phone:- 0208 680 7755

Overview

Le Bien Manger opened in the second half of 2002. It comprises a bar and restaurant specialising in continental cuisine.

Eva and I tried it out for the first time one Saturday evening in September 2002.

Ambience

The restaurant and bar, being newly opened, have been decorated in a modern (almost Scandinavian) style. Comfortable blue upholstered wooden chairs are complemented by blue tablecloths which suit the stylish polished wooden floors and blue and white walls.

The restaurant is very brightly lit, by halogen spot lights, both Eva and I thought that the lighting was excessively bright; more akin to the neighbouring pizza restaurant than what one would wish for on a romantic meal for two.

The restaurant has large windows facing out onto the street, and offers (as an estate agent would say) “unparalleled vistas” of the street life outside. This unfortunately being Croydon High Street on a Saturday night it is not necessarily an asset in its favour.

The restaurant and bar are well proportioned, and sufficiently well ventilated to allow people to smoke without it annoying other diners. The temperature, something which so often some restaurants seem unable/unwilling to control, was just right.

The modestly sized bar is situated in the left hand corner of the restaurant, I did not see any bar stools around it and it was not clear as to whether people can just come in for a drink.

Menu

The restaurant offers an eclectic mixture of tapas, French and pasta dishes; ranging from meatballs, mussels to pork shank. I was tempted to try selections from each, but that would have been too greedy! There’s always next time.

The wine list offered a decent selection of European and New World wines, priced on average between £14-£25.

One eccentricity, which I suggest the management address, is that there is a 70p per head charge for bread rolls. Our waitress asked if we would like some, and as these are just a normal part of the overheads in most restaurants I said yes. A small matter of quirky principle on my part, maybe, but I do not order bread rolls if they are charged for separately.



Service

When we arrived we had not booked a table, but we were shown to one instantaneously without any pretentious fuss about checking bookings.

The staff were attentive and friendly, the service prompt and accurate. We asked for a doggy bag (I being the doggy) at the end, for the remnants of Eva’s pork shank, and our waitress happily obliged.

Food

I started with a Spanish omelette from the tapas selection, this consisted of two good sized slices of a well presented tasty egg and potato omelette. I followed on with a sirloin steak (cooked rare) in pepper sauce with French fries. The steak was a decent size (I believe about 10oz) and had a good layer of fat around it, I do not like places where the fat is removed as the steak is often dry and tasteless. The steak had been properly cooked to my specification and was tender; the fat had some sinew but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the meat. I would say that the sauce was a little bland and thin. I would recommend more peppercorn, brandy and double cream (my forthcoming recipe book will contain a pepper sauce recipe). The french-fries were of good quality, and clearly superior to the fat injected muck served by the ever encroaching fast food outlets.

I rounded the meal off with crepes in Grand Marnier. The portion was generous, four crepes in a good layer of sauce. I was a little disappointed that they were not flambéed, but you can’t have everything!

Eva had the smoked salmon and capers for her starter. This was well presented, ie it was served as salmon should be “plain and simple”; a generous plate of salmon garnished with capers, lemon and a little side salad.

Eva then had the pork shank in apple sauce as a main course, with a medley of carrots cauliflower and haricot vert accompaniment. She thoroughly enjoyed it, and I must compliment the chef. This was a generous shank which had been well cooked so that the meat, which was very tender, literally fell off the bone. I must confess that I am munching on the remains, that we took home in the doggy bag, as I write this. The apple sauce was thin (not the chunky English kind that needs to be spooned from a jar) and complimented the pork. The vegetables were not overcooked, nor were they undercooked, and were well presented with a light dusting of parmesan.

The overall meal, which included two gin and tonics and a good £20 bottle of Chablis, came to a reasonable £74 before tip.

Suggestions

I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:

 Don’t charge for the bread, this only serves to annoy.

 Install wooden slatted blinds on the windows, this will serve to keep out the sights of Croydon on a Friday/Saturday night.

 Turn the lighting down, this will add a romantic ambience to the restaurant.

 Place larger, and more, candles on the tables. The small night lights placed in the elegant blue glass holders are nice, but not enough to create atmosphere.

Overall Opinion

We both agree that we will most definitely visit the restaurant again in the near future, and are happy to recommend it.