Wednesday, 30 May 2007
The Food Room, Battersea
Sometimes I think I'm really spoiled. At one end of my road, not 5 minutes walk away, is the Fox and Hounds, gastropub extraordinaire. And at the other, on an otherwise barren stretch of Queenstown Road, are two restaurants bravely setting out to create a mini foodie haven in my little corner of Battersea. One is a new Argentinian steakhouse called Santa Maria de Buen Ayre, which I'm sure I'll get round to visiting one day but have been put off slightly by the way they keep huge amounts of meat piled-up ready-cooked on the grill by the window. One tip for restaurants - if you're going to have the kitchen on show, make sure it looks like you're cooking nice fresh food and not just preparing for a nuclear holocaust.
Anyway just next door to this South American upstart is The Food Room, a low-key establishment aimed squarely at being nothing more than a "good local restaurant" - think Chez Bruce in Wandsworth or Lambert's in Balham. In fact, I've started to notice quite a few nice little local restaurants scattered around South London just at the moment - it's a very pleasing trend.
And what's more pleasing is that the Food Room is actually very good indeed. Our welcome was both French AND friendly - quite an extraordinary feat to pull off - although admittedly being the only diners in the restaurant all evening, I don't suppose the staff were overstretched. The homemade parmesan bread and tomato bread were tasty enough, and the glass of prosecco that came with our cheapo Toptable menu (£19.50 for three courses - brilliant value) went down very well.
Things really got interesting when my starter arrived - a perfectly cooked couple of pieces of crispy red mullet with a gorgeously creamy garlicky potato salad. Texture played a big part in this dish, and it also looked fantastic - a delight for all the senses! Top marks for this one.
I opted to pay the £5 supplement for beef fillet, fois gras & truffle sauce (well of course I did), and this was great. Perfectly cooked beef, probably could have done with a little more flavour, but saved by a lovely big slab of fois on top and a smooth winey sauce. If nothing else it was worth ordering just to have these otherwise premium ingredients at such a bargain price. I imagine lots of restaurants would have charged the same for this one dish as I paid for the entire meal, and I bet it wouldn't have been as good. It's also worth mentioning at this point that a fellow diner's pork medallions in red wine & rosemary sauce with parsnip mash was declared the best meal she'd had in months, so full points there too.
Dessert was an interesting dish - coriander parfait with maple roasted pineapple. The parfait had a rather offputting dry texture, and it had probably been prepared a while in advance as an extra dish was whipped up in a matter of minutes after one of the waitresses got the dessert order slightly wrong. But the actual flavours involved were sound, the sweet coriander working surprisingly well and the maple-roast pineapple being as tasty as you would expect. Nothing spectacular, but no major complaints.
And for three tasty courses, a glass of bubbly and attentive service in nice surroundings, £19.50 is - I'll say again - a hell of a bargain. The only extras were the wine; a nice bottle of Viognier for around £18 and a glass of a medium-bodied Merlot to go with my decadent main. Probably the most bargainous fine dining experience in London at the moment I would hazard a guess. Certainly South London anyway, and it deserves a lot more custom than it appears to be getting. I've been to the Food room 3 or 4 times now and it's never really been very busy, in fact the last couple of times we've been the only people in there. All credit to the staff, the food and service is always of a very high standard, but I'm desperately worried that this situation can't continue. Six covers a night isn't enough to sustain any restaurant midweek. So fingers crossed for the future of the Food Room - with cooking of this quality, it deserves to be packed to the rafters every day.