Before anyone leaves any snide comments, yes I know I've been eating out a lot recently. It's partly that I want to get this blog off to a good start with a few varied reviews, partly that this particular pub is very close to where I work and seemed a shame not to pop in, but mainly because I'm a restaurant junkie. I was also aware that despite the recent refurbishment, The Phoenix had been getting nothing better than average feedback. But I would rather discover a new mediocre place than revisit a sure-thing. Maybe on a subconcious level I crave disappointment - if I go to Gordon Ramsays expecting it to be good, and it is good, then of course I'm happy but it's not a surprise. If I go to McDonalds expecting crap and get crap, I'm still happy. No surprises. But if I visit a new gastropub run by the same people that own the superb Builders Arms in Chelsea, with a head chef previously of Soho House (New York), and I expect it to be good and it's mediocre, then oh! what bittersweet satisfaction.
So, lucky me, The Phoenix turned out to be quite spectacularly mediocre. I should have noticed the warning signs, though: a cramped dining area squeezed like an afterthought into the corner of a huge, boistrous, smoky pub. A menu consisting of the most bog standard pub fare imaginable (burger and chips, feta salad, etc). Misspelling of the word 'shepherd' in 'Shephard's Pie'. It didn't look promising. But I was determined to give them the benefit of the doubt until the food arrived. Plus the waitress who seated me was very friendly and efficient and gave me free olives.
My starter was listed as 'Phoenix prawn cocktail'. Now, call me crazy, but I was under the impression that if you put your establishment's name on a dish then you're signaling it out to be something special. I had in mind the Langtry Prawn Cockail at the Cadogan hotel in Chelsea, who do a very tasty dish inspired by the 70s classic but updated with marie-rose ice-cream and deep-fried shrimp. But this was the most unbelievably dull dish you can imagine - just precooked prawns drowned in shop-bought mayonnaise, on shredded iceberg lettuce. That's it. What exactly makes the difference between a 'Phoenix' prawn cocktail and a normal prawn cocktail, I wonder? Perhaps only the audacity to charge £7 for it, because I could have knocked this up myself in 5 minutes and it would have cost me about 50p. Shockingly bad.
The main course would have been the aforementioned 'Shephard's Pie' except we were told they were sold out. Not being particularly inspired by anything else more interesting on the menu, I plumped for the beef burger and chips, which, to be fair, was reasonably tasty. They'd cooked the meat to the desired medium-rare, which always brings a smile to my face, and the chips looked home-made in the Canadian homefries style - ie. skins on. But a companion's risotto tasted very odd, and had an anaemic-looking slab of slimy poached salmon slapped on top of it.
The bill came to about £30 each, including a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and a discount on the uneaten risotto, which I suppose isn't unreasonable, but you really can do much better in this price range. My advice to the Phoenix is to scrap the poky dining area, stick to selling vast quantities of Stella to the local post-work crowd, and send your chef back off to NYC's Soho House where maybe his mediocrity was more celebrated.