Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Reviews

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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.

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.