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I had a vegetarian friend round for lunch, which wasn’t a challenge in itself, but I do like to cook something special when I’m cooking for others. When I say special, I mean not run of the mill, everyday, “I … Continue reading
A friend of mine couldn’t make the evening celebration on my actual birthday so we had lunch together instead. I picked The Fable, right next to Holborn Viaduct, a new bar by the Drake & Morgan group who are also responsible for offerings including The Folly and The Happenstance. You can read about our experience on my tripadvisor review The Fable: More of a Nightmare than a Fairytale (yes, it is quite long), and I was hesitant to blog about it because I was offered another meal on the house (up to a value of £50, which given their prices won’t actually get you that much). I wanted to give them a chance to redeem themselves, or at least see whether our experience was a one-off. To sum up my review of the first visit, the service was appalling and the food was unpleasant. It’s unfortunate because the décor is stunning and it really could be something.
A different companion and I went this lunchtime (Saturday 22nd March, I’m posting this late, forgive me). Given that I would hope they were aware of the context that we had returned to the restaurant in, I would have expected a slightly more effusive welcome.
Service was improved, to the point where we were asked whether we were ready to order 3 times in 5 minutes by 3 different members of the team after we’d only just sat down. We’d already ordered drinks, I’d requested a bloody decisive, their “secret” bloody Mary recipe (£7.50) and my friend had the “juice of the day” (£3.45) which was orange, cranberry and something else. Our drinks were brought over 15 minutes after we ordered them. Unfortunately, mine was not what I ordered as I was brought a “bloody Caesar” (£8.95) which has ‘clamato’ juice and a hulking great prawn on a skewer. I tried a sip and wasn’t impressed so managed to get the attention of the hostess and told her that I’d ordered a bloody Mary. She replied saying this was a Caesar Mary and I told her I knew that but that wasn’t what I ordered. She offered to replace it and took it away. On the menu and the website it talks about a “Bloody Mary bar” where you can mix your own, to your taste. There was no sign of this.
We ordered food, my friend had the burger and lobster for £15. She was debating the addition of feta which I personally thought was a pretty bad idea that had nothing to do with the fact that I don’t like feta. She decided to check whether the lobster came in the burger or whether it was on the side; if it was on the side she would have the feta (£1.25), if it was in the burger she wouldn’t. She was told that it was on the side so she requested additional feta. I ordered the corn fritters (£8.95) which were served with baby spinach, grilled halloumi, a poached egg and something called tomato kasuni which after reference to google I think must be a typo and is actually kasundi, a pickle or sauce of Indian origin (it just looked and tasted like stewed tomato to me). I also ordered half an eggs royale (£4.95), which is a Benedict with smoked salmon rather than ham. I really like the idea of just being able to order half a portion as you can get that and have something else too, given my indecisiveness this is a great help.
The food arrived, the waiter carrying all three plates at the same time. He asked who was having the bean burger. “Erm, I don’t think that’s ours” said my friend. I looked at the other two plates which were clearly mine, and said so. The waiter took away the bean burger to get what she’d actually ordered and left me with my plates. Waiting staff don’t write things down. They might like to start doing that as it may benefit themselves and their customers. My companion encouraged me to crack on with my food, so I did. The first thing I do with a dish containing a poached egg is to cut into it so all the yolk runs out. I sliced into the poached egg on the corn fritters and to my disappointment the egg was overcooked and the yolk was practically solid. “That’s not good”, I thought. I tried the one on the Benedict and as I cut into it, I hit a pocket of poaching water which gushed out and soaked the muffin and the plate. They must cook the poached eggs for the Benedict and the ones for the fritters in different ways as the one on the fritter was bone dry to the point of being solid. The manager came over and I showed him what the problem was. He took the plates away and said that he would have them made again and brought out at the same time as the burger. I ordered a glass of Prosecco (£5.95) as by this point I’d finished the Bloody Mary. It came over and on seeing it, I thought “that’s a lip smear”. I then thought, maybe it’s just a water mark. I had a closer look and there were traces of pink lipstick. It was a lip smear. I pointed this out to the manager and he brought another one in a clean glass. It may have been the same contents poured into a new glass as there were less bubbles in the replacement.
The second lot of food arrived and they’d forgotten the feta my friend requested. I checked both my poached eggs, the one on the fritters was still overdone but less so, there was more runny yolk but still a significant amount of solid yolk where it had been cooked too long or left under a heat lamp. The one on the Benedict had a smaller pocket of water this time round but it was still there. I have absolutely no idea how you could poach an egg and cause a pocket of water in the white, it intrigues me. It was now after 2pm so we’d been there for over an hour. I was so hungry by that point that I just couldn’t be bothered any more, so we ate. The fritters were actually more like pancakes and the halloumi could have been warmer, but it was still very tasty. The Benedict was fine, the smoked salmon was nice but I didn’t rate the hollandaise as it was very thin and seemed to be on the verge of splitting.
We finished and like last time were left with the plates sitting in front of us for a while before they were taken away. Someone who used to work at a local pub once told me that they had to clear empty plates within 5 minutes after the group had finished eating. Clearly staff at The Fable don’t have such targets. We were asked if we would like dessert, I just had a coffee (£1.95) but my friend had the brownie (£4.95). The coffee was fine and my friend enjoyed the brownie. What wasn’t so enjoyable was the manager coming over and asking whether there were “any mistakes this time?”. It felt patronising rather than concerned, as though we were blamed for being overly picky and pointing things out than just accepting poor service and food.
My friend’s assessment was: “brownie was really good, the burger was average, the lobster was overdone”.
We asked for the bill and the manager came over to tell us that everything was on them, as though this was a favour to us and a decision he’d made based on our experience that day. I asked whether he was aware that we were supposed to be getting the meal gratis (I’d been keeping a rough running total as we were going along) and he informed me that there was a £50 voucher on the booking but that what we had had come to a little more than that but he didn’t work it out as we were better off that way. I didn’t say anything but was doubtful of that. However, given the issues that we’d had and the vibes we were getting I decided that some things were better left unsaid and we departed. As we left, one of the chefs had come out of the kitchen and was standing in the middle of the floor fiddling with his phone… Maybe he doesn’t get any signal in the kitchen but really?
I decided to work out how much we’d spent when I got home.
£7.50 + £3.45 + £15 + £1.25 + £8.95 + £4.95 + £5.95 + £1.95 + £4.95 = £53.95
However, if you look here, you’ll see that there is an offer “Lazy Weekends” for a complimentary Bloody Mary if you dine during the weekends before 5pm, until 31st March.
£53.95 – £7.50 = £46.45.
Obviously that’s not including the “discretionary” 12.5% service charge which would have been £5.80 and would have taken the total to £52.25 but quite frankly given it took over an hour to get what we ordered and everything was wrong they were having a laugh if they were expecting that.
Some people might think that, given we were getting the meal for free, that we should just have accepted things. I disagree, and given the amount of money that must have been wasted in replacing everything that was wrong, it would have cost them a lot less to get everything right first time around.
In conclusion: I won’t be back (I’m sure the staff are inordinately pleased about this) and I’d recommend that you go somewhere they can cook poached eggs, you get what you order first time round, the staff are gracious if mistakes are made and the champagne flutes are clean.
Just as a little aside, I found it very interesting that there were plenty of free tables around us by the windows, however there are two or three tables by the kitchen, away from the main floor and out of sight of people walking past the restaurant. I noticed that one of the tables was occupied when we arrived by a family of older parents and a mid/late twenties offspring. While we were there, another family arrived of a similar demographic and they were shown to one of the other tables stuck by the kitchen. Age discrimination? I’ll leave that thought with you.
Bistrot Bruno Loubert is at the Zetter hotel in Faringdon. The first time I went was serendipitous; I was asked by turquoisedad where I’d like to go for dinner and said “the new Bruno Loubert place, please”. I was referring to his new(ish) restaurant The Grain Store, up near Kings X but I think he must have googled “Bruno Loubert” and the first restaurant which appeared was his bistro. So that’s where we ended up. The meal was great, although I wouldn’t have chosen my starter again; I had thin slices of aubergine with a tahini flavoured dressing. For me, the crowning glory was the main course of beetroot ravioli: pasta parcels filled with sweet beetroot, creamy ricotta and syrupy but sharp balsamic. These beautiful little gifts were accompanied by fried breadcrumbs, parmesan and rocket. It really was a joy to eat, so much so that when I was asked where I’d like to go for a birthday treat there was no question that it would be BBL for more ravioli.
A table was booked for four for Friday evening. I don’t like a fuss so they weren’t told it was for a celebration. This is a very important point to remember. I arrived, a few minutes late as those who know me are used to (a text I sent to the friend I had lunch with today included the words: “please don’t kill me”). Tables are quite close, but not intrusively so unless you’re next to a group of Hooray Henrys, so I had to shimmy a little to get into my seat. I opened my presents before ordering a Twinkle, which is a champagne cocktail with vodka and elderflower cordial. The light levels are pretty low, so low in fact that our waiter had to take the candle off the table to check the description on the menu when we asked a question about something, but that just adds to the ambiance. Probably not an ideal place for a blind date because you won’t be able to see what your dining companion looks like.
Then it was time to choose the food. I have a great difficulty with menus, I’m very indecisive and often find myself flitting back and forth, then not deciding until right at the last minute, because then it’s too late to change your mind unless you’re prepared to play Chase the Waiter around various obstacles including your fellow restaurant-goers. The beetroot ravioli is an option as a starter or main course. I was debating whether to have it as a starter, main course, or both. As I wasn’t particularly taken with any of the other starters, I opted for the beetroot ravioli followed by the special which was pan fried fillet of black bream, ratte potato, wild mushroom and watercress veloute. I thought ratte potato was a preparation/cooking method however a quick google corrected me and they are in fact a variety of potato which have a “unique nutty flavour and smooth, buttery texture”, I felt they were quite similar to Jerusalem artichoke though others may disagree. The ravioli was as delicious as I remembered and the fish was faultlessly cooked. The only things I would say was that the fish dish was a little over-seasoned for my taste and the combination of soft fish flesh and slightly chewy mushroom was a bit of a surprise when you think you only have fish on your fork…
Everyone’s plates were cleared with no complaints, cleared quickly, then we were asked about dessert. I plumped for a coffee as I was stuffed almost to bursting, but my companions had dessert. I was sitting facing the restaurant and saw a bright light emerging from the dusk. The waiter had clocked my cards and presents and taken matters into his own hands because he brought over a plate decorated with the words “Happy Birthday” with a candle stuck into a scoop of ice cream. There was no singing, I was pleased. I just thought that was a lovely, lovely touch and something that he had decided to do as a thoughtful gesture.
The atmosphere is lovely, relaxed but with a nice buzz. Wine and water glasses were topped up as necessary and the service was impeccable and attentive without being obtrusive. I’d go back to Bistrot Bruno Loubert again and again, and again. And I’d always have the beetroot ravioli.
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