Friday, 1 August 2008
According to Giles Coren, Times restaurant critic and scourge of sub-editors the world over, "the application of superlatives to food is a terrible, terrible mistake". I suppose you can see where he's coming from - declaring anything to be the best, whether it's a burger or a restaurant or just some gin and vermouth in a glass, is pretty unhelpful and I can't help getting the feeling that most of the time these grandiose statements are deliberately made one week only to be ripped down the next. It does make good copy, after all. But where I can appreciate that an over-enthusiastic restaurateur may declare his spag bol to be "the best in London" to drum up some interest and get bums on seats, even if said spag bol turns out in the end to be awful, it's the use of superlatives in other weirder areas that I take issue with. Take, for example, Bank in Westminster, which proudly declares itself to have "the longest bar in Europe". Why should we care, exactly? Does the length of bar have some correlation with the skill of the bartenders or the freshness of the mint? Of course not - it basically just serves as some pointless extra trivia to stick on the website, as if punters are going to be racing up and down the length of the room, warm martinis in their hands, crying "Well the drinks are crap, but look at all this space!".
Fortunately there is another reason to visit Bank other than to gaze in awe upon the length of the bar - it actually hosts a rather nice restaurant towards the back. A starter of "Fresh Whitby crab salad" was not actually the freshest I've ever tasted, as both the crab and the bread could have been in better condition, but was redeemed by a generous lump of crab meat and a nicely seasoned salad. A companion's duck spring rolls were somewhat less successful, greasy and leaden with sub-par duck meat and standard bought-in sweet chilli sauce.
Mains were a world away in terms of quality. My Whole Brixham Dover Sole was gorgeous - rich and meaty and cooked to crispy-edged, buttery perfection. Not quite as breathtaking as the one I had at Scott's, but half the price and only slightly smaller so not much to complain about really. The only downside was again the bought-in tartare - if you're going to serve a whole Dover Sole and cook it so well, why not spend a bit of extra time making a nice homemade tartare to go with it? Lamb chops with summer vegetables also disappeared quickly and were served with good fresh veg, although there was perhaps slightly too much fat and gristle on the chops to justify the £19 price ticket.
My passion fruit sorbet was just that - uninspiring but edible and fresh-tasting. However the Crème brûlée was a really good dish, generously speckled with real vanilla seeds and topped with a still-warm crunchy sugar crust.
It's very hard to give an objective appraisal of restaurants in this part of town as there are so few that are any good, but while not stunning in any particular respect, Bank nevertheless provides decent grub at only slightly inflated prices, and for that the civil servants and office workers of Victoria should be grateful. In fact, I'd go so far to say that it was the "best" mid-range hotel restaurant in the Buckingham Gate Road area. And they have my permission to add that to the website.