Sunday, 24 May 2009

the house

went to the house for sunday lunch a couple of weeks ago.

i have a love-hate relationship with this place. love probably stems from the fact that it’s on our doorstep. i couldn’t get any closer to it unless they turfed out the arsey woman downstairs and moved in, which would be nice.

second, i like the way it looks. not too restauranty and not too pubby, both cosy and clean at the same time. nice tables and chairs too, by which i mean nothing too rickety: i can’t cope with the gastropub (that's you, eagle/anchor and hope) approach to furnishing where you’re perched on a chair so old and so small that someone as tall and lanky as me has to try and fold limbs away like a circus contortionist.

third, i’ve had some very nice dinners with rich there. we’ve drank champagne, smoked cigars (while you could still do it) and read papers by open fires. we’ve brought friends for sunday lunches and friday night sessions of too many bottles of red wine.

but they also get it so spectacularly wrong sometimes that i end up having periods of hating the place.

when we first moved to N1, i thought the house was just overpriced. it lured you in with a promise of nice pints and pub lunches and then slapped you on the head with a 50 quid a head food bill. the food was okay but it was just a pub on a back street. and even when we were reconciled to paying our hard earned cash, there were a couple of occasions (at least) when the service was so abysmal that i vowed never to go back. we even walked out once.

and yet i do come back – it’s like a bad relationship where everything has been said and done but you can't help coming back for one more go, hoping against all odds that things will somehow be different this time.

so, you see, i want to like this place.

and the last couple of times we went, the food was very good. the prices had stayed the same so the rest of the world kind of caught up with the house. or is it the other way around? anyway, the menu never seems to be too exciting – it had hardly changed over the years – but you knew what you were getting and you knew it’d be well executed. sometimes, that’s all you want from a local. when i want fancy, i’ll go into town.

this sunday was a beautiful sunny day and the garden was packed when we got there. so far, so good. luckily, they had a table for two inside. less good is that it was the fool's table. you know the one – near the serving area, or the toilet, or just somewhere where arsey waiters will be tripping over your feet every 20 seconds. normally, not being a brit, i ask to be seated elsewhere. they usually oblige. i don’t bother today – the sun is shining, i’ve had a small beer and i am quite content.

the menu is a surprise – i assume it’s a sunday thing. it's shorter and cheaper and all the things i was looking forward to are not there. in fact, you could call this cheap – the credit crunch is clearly hitting the N1 pretty hard. the mains are all around £14, which is less than they cost five years ago.

we both order half a chicken despite it being odd somehow – i might want half a chicken at home or in nando’s but not in a place like this, and not even for 14 quid.

suffice it to say that i could roast a better chicken in my sleep. it lacked any flavour or seasoning or just something, like a little spike of lemon or a whiff of garlic to lift it out of mediocrity. it came with a bland turnip and another root veg (carrot? who knows) mash which was stone cold. i imagine this is what baby food tastes like – no sign of salt or pepper or even the sweet undertone of butter. there is also cauliflower cheese – i get a minute portion, half a florette, and i can’t taste the cheese at all. plus savoy cabbage, also cold, and a yorkshire pudding bigger than the plate.

we’d skipped the potatoes and asked forore vegetables instead. if this was more, i dread to think what you would have got otherwise. a seed to grow some cauliflower? this has increasingly become my way of judging restaurants. if they’re happy to accommodate such a request – and i don’t think it’s a particularly weird one – then all is good. if they don’t, it’s usually a sign of sloppiness.

i need to mention the starter even though i don’t really want to. whilst i am happy to spend money on good food – and i say that as a woman who has just spent £1.78 on about 4 anchovies in waitrose – i hate feeling ripped off. rich said he was amazed they would put something like this out of the kitchen. basically, it was a disc of puff pastry (shop bought, i am certain), baked in the oven and topped with some roughly cut slices of apple and chicory which have been caramelised with honey. it was all way too sweet – to the extent you could hardly recognise it was chicory, and should have been sliced much more finely. on top of this puddingy concoction were some spinach leaves, with no discernible dressing, some pomegranate seeds and the stingiest grating of cheese.

in fact, now i think of it, the starter was like a collection of ingredients pretending to be a course, like something that failed the audition to become a delicious tarte tatin.

anyway...i hope this was just a blip. i know, i just know there will be a thursday night when i fancy nipping out somewhere as local as this so let's hope they sort it out.

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