Monday, 20 August 2007

Joe Allen

There are some meals that live in memory for being so excellent, such a wonderful gustatory experience, that you re-live the meal in flashes as you would a glorious first date. And then there are others that live in memory for the opposite reason; either there was high anticipation and ultimate disappointment (making the experience all the worse), or the meal was bad enough to make you angry for having eaten it and been forced to spend money on it. These meals are the no-hopers, the date you wish would end early and would lose your phone number as well because you never, ever, want to have contact with them again.

I ate at Joe Allen the other night, a staple of the Covent Garden pre-theater world and a branch of the New York eatery. It was chosen by a friend (who swears by their chili con carne and hamburgers) who has eaten there on a few occasions. The place was definitely New York old school, with a cavernous, bricked in feeling and every surface covered in old theater posters. An upright piano stood by the entrance, and I marveled at the possibility of it turning into a piano bar later (it would dear reader, it would). At the bar in the front of the house, the bartender studiously cleaned and shuffled glasses, then napkins, then dust, rather than serving us, his only customers. We finally got served half a pint of beer for £3.50, and another dose of what the bartender thought of us when he refused to direct one of the group to the 'bathroom' until we played his game and called it the 'toilet'. Sadly, I don't find rudeness either comical or impressive so I was already not best pleased.

The menu looked enticing enough, a combination of tried-and-tested dishes (crab salad, spare ribs) and slightly less expected offerings (grilled chorizo and rocket, braised veal and saffron potatoes). I started with blackbean soup and moved on to the veal, and my opinion of the restaurant was solidified when I tried the dishes. None of them, the starter or the main, mine or Mr A&N's, tasted like anything. At first I thought I was having a neurological episode and became mildly panicked for my health, but whispered words around half the table showed that others who weren't regulars thought the same thing. My veal was fatty and on a mound of too-orange tomato paste (the same orange that was coating the spare ribs and, oh look, coloring the chili con carne, too), and my roasted saffron potatoes were boiled, withered things that tasted enough like saffron that I realized my health wasn't actually in jeopardy, the food was just poor.

Because we're optimists, we all decided to order dessert (despite having to wait half an hour to place the order); my reckoning was that if they couldn't do savory they might be able to do sweet - and I needed something to take away the fatty veal taste. It seems a foolish line of thinking now, I admit, especially after tasting (or not, as the case was) the almond and blackberry tart (or was it plum? Just words on a menu rather than actual flavors).

The food was so disappointing that I didn't want to take any pictures to commemorate the event - the sooner I could forget it the better. I fully admit the meal would have just been written off if the bill hadn't been the final insult. £50 per head bought us 3 poor courses, 3 cheap bottles of wine between the 6 of us, and a couple hours of soft piano music. There are countless other things I would have rather done with that money, but at least I know there won't be a second date with Joe Allen in the hope that things might just get better.


Anonymous said...

Oh that's a real shame, disappointing meals are bad enough but even worse when they're not cheap too :(

Joe Allen has always been on my "list" but maybe I'll rethink that after your comments.


Joanna said...

Thanks for this - sounds terrible, as well as expensive, and it sounds as if it wasn't just one bad evening ...