Friday, 2 April 2010

The Cadogan Arms, Chelsea



There I was on the bus, reading Marina O'Loughlin's enormously satisfying evisceration of Zilli Green last Wednesday morning, and something struck me as strangely familiar. Not the writing, which was unique and as vivid as ever (on a tofu dish - "this is a ceiling tile in clumsy drag"), and not even the fact that yet another Aldo Zilli restaurant is revealed to be a cack-handed, cynical vanity project - that too is par for the course. What I recognised was the photo, the very same as that which had graced the top of the Harden's review from a few weeks before. Now I'm guessing that neither O'Loughlin or the Hardens boys had anything to do with the photo that was used to illustrate their pieces - presumably it came from the restaurant PR people and was supplied long after the review - but it did get me thinking. Call me an old-fashioned, self-serving food blogger cheerleader (and many more besides), but I like to see pictures of the food, a room full of happy diners and busy waiting staff, even action shots of the chefs. What I can't see any value in is a perfectly made up, beautifully-lit still-life of a deserted restaurant. Which is ironic, because this was the first picture I took as I entered the Cadogan Arms:


Beautifully lit and professionally shot it may not be (you must know how this blog works by now), but even so, this is no staged PR clipart - this is how the place looked at 1:15pm on Easter Friday afternoon. And, by God, we were about to find out why.


First of all, an £8.50 Bloody Mary, watery and unsatisfying, and shot through with unpleasant chewy bits of horseradish. It was garnished with a stick of celery dipped (pointlessly) in pre-ground course black pepper which throughout the course of the afternoon shed tiny dark lumps onto the tabletop, managing to find their way into clothing, under fingernails, and into the desserts. I'm not going to go into a great deal of detail about the dishes that followed, because everything that is wrong about the Cadogan can be summed up in this drink - badly conceived, badly constructed, overpriced, pretentious, and irritating.


Briefly, then, the food. A starter of steak tartare may have used pretty good fillet steak, only thanks to the sheer amount of mustard they'd put in you couldn't tell. It was a bit like eating lumpy mustard, with a raw egg on top.


My main course was a whole baked mackerel. The best thing you could say about this dish was the flesh wasn't overcooked. The worst thing you could say was that it was a leather-bound, underseasoned chore, surrounded by three weird stone-cold barrels of aubergine-wrapped tomato thing, and some cold slimy mushrooms. A companions 'bubble and squeak' was also stone cold, with a shockingly bitter hollandaise and accompanied by an overwhelming reek of cheap truffle oil.


I don't know why we ordered desserts. Perhaps it was the fact we were both still hungry after barely picking at our mains, or perhaps we were just morbidly fascinated to see what else they could cock up. My deep-fried jam sandwich, a la 60 Hope Street Liverpool, was flabby and unattractive, and tasted like eggy bread covered in jam. It's not supposed to, in case you were wondering - 60 Hope Street is my favourite Liverpool restaurant and the original, though actually not the best dessert they do these days, is far better. Worse, though, was my companion's three pathetic cubes of marshmallow, accompanied by a tiny lump of peanut crackling and a small jug of cold (yes, cold) chocolate sauce. Badly conceived, badly constructed, overpriced, pretentious, and irritating. Are we getting the picture yet?


I don't know why the Cadogan Arms has been getting such good reviews recently - I'd be tempted to write it off as a bad night, or perhaps as it's Easter the head chef wasn't there, but I honestly can't see how some of these dishes - particularly my leather-baked mackerel with aubergine cylinders, or that weird marshmallow thing, would have worked even anyone in the kitchen HAD given a shit.


In case anyone is still on the fence, and is in any tiny way inclined to give the Cadogan Arms another shot - consider this. Although my Bloody Mary cost £8.50, which I take full responsibility for, my companion's lime and soda cost £3. I'll say that again - a lime and soda at the Cadogan will cost you £3. One more time, with feeling - badly conceived, badly constructed, overpriced, pretentious, and irritating.

2/10

Thanks to Andrew Webb of eyedropper for inspiration on the blogger vs. professional photographer bit

EDIT 8/4/10: A very contrite Cadogan Arms have emailed to point out that my Bloody Mary was £6.50, not £8.50, so I'm happy to correct that point. It was still crap though.

The Cadogan Arms on Urbanspoon

21 comments:

jonathan Akeroyd said...

Spot on review Chris, I have been there twice and been very disappointed on both times. The pricing is also heavy and with Byron opposite I think its days will be numbered even for the Sloaney pony palete

Su-Lin said...

Seeing at how cheap and easy it was for me to make marshmallows at home, I'm rather shocked that they offer three measly ones as a dessert!

Ollie said...

Sweet Jesus, that mackerel dish looks horrendous. What a complete dump - it's never crossed my mind to enter the place. Very interesting preamble to this review.

Lizzie said...

WHy on earth would you put such a measly portion on such an enormous plate? To highlight that they're ripping you off, perhaps? It sounds (and looks) dire.

Michelle said...

The food sounds grim and the aubergine sounds particularly disgusting but I'm more outraged by the £3 lime and soda.

glutton boy said...

irritating, pretentious and overpriced, sounds like a fair description of you Pople. Hahaha. prick!

Chris said...

I wish they wouldn't allow internet access from secure institutions. Still, a visitor is a visitor I suppose.

Eva Lai said...

Oh, this sort of thing happened to my friend's parents when they visited London from Hong Kong, they basically described the experience in the same way. It sounds like the military food that I used to get at the army Barracks in Wiltshire, I'd eat army burgers at 6am, get free rides in military vehicles, the army didn't charge me money for the sleeping bag they hired out to me and I got lots of free grass to sleep with indoors, so please bear in mind all the food there was free of charge, as were all the drinks including alcohol. I guess folks who wouldn't mind this would be 11-yr-old kids running off to play board games, army folks who prefer not to eat rations, year 1 university students ...

Patrick said...

£3 for a lime and soda is outrageous.

Grumbling Gourmet said...

What a waste of a meal! bad luck, though having had the misfortune to drink there a few times I really can't say I'm surprised! There are a few good places round there, but the locals tend to put me off!

Do you still take most of your photos on the iPhone BTW? Do you just use the standard camera app?

Rich
www.grumblinggourmet.com

Kake said...

Lime and soda pricing is just weird. I believe I have identified London's steepest L&S price gradient, in Wimbledon; last July I paid £2.70 for a pint of it at the Brewery Tap, and then 50p for another pint of it at the Rose and Crown 115 metres down the road.

Mr Noodles said...

I love the bad reviews ! On a rare occasion, I've written one, I find it helps to exorcise the memory of a bad meal !

Gastro1 said...

I salute you sir am amazed you did not sneak out and cross over to Byron and have a burger !

Natasha said...

That's one of the saddest looking fish dishes I've ever seen...

catty said...

Urgh sounds like a horrific experience! Guess next time you hit a pub at 1.15pm and it's empty, it's time to turn around! And what is up with the peppered celery stick? Bizarre. As for the marshmallows, I can make you that dessert at home and even give you WARM chocolate sauce ;)

BribedwithFood said...

Oh, dear.

My grilled mackerel dinners look better than that pile of crap and we know I'm not one for "presentation" over flavour.

Hugh Wright said...

Chris, you want to tell the Earl of Cadogan about this; the place bears his name after all, and he isn't one to take poor quality food lightly: http://bit.ly/cHUG2i

Eva Lai said...

Oh, you like to maybe ask the Earl of Home to assist you then? Aren't the Earls buddies? Earl of Home is, really, on the same side as you and me semi-indirectly relating to the slimy mango issue and all extended things when much fuller meals were served (especially Malaysian ones)... but let's not be so sad as to take sides, when mangoes go bad, everyone is sad. He wrote to me about related management issues when he was on holiday, and called himself David...! He was very keen to ensure that the Malaysian meals would go well, as opposed to going wrong (but not in the traditional meaning/ sense of this phrase, oh god, I am confusing stuff on your food blog, both .Earl of Home and I were cleaners)

But Nah I'm just joking, it's nice to not chase after mangoes that have fallen apart... the Earl of Cadogan seems to be amazingly philanthropic!
(oops sorry I've written a little enigma- but food is, at the end of a day, a dining experience...)

Helen said...

I was once in a bar on Bishopsgate and when I asked for some Worcestershire Sauce in my tomato juice I was told that that would make it a Virgin Mary and that would cost an extra 75p. I told them that it was an outrageous charge and walked out leaving the tomato juice and wine sitting on the bar. My friend was terribly embarressed but we both ened up having a lovely, cheaper evening with far better food in Leon in Spitalfields.

Why do people tend never to complain at the time? Surely a concerted effort would improve quality? But I am supposing that the staff care?

Anonymous said...

My partner and I had the misfortune to eat here in late August 2009. It was horrific from start to finish. No discernible gin in the aperitif, rude & arrogant Antipodean staff, cheap tables and cutlery. Our waiter had a leaking bandage on his arm that made him look like an escapee from a WW1 exhibit at the Imperial War Museum. He decided to take twenty minutes to prise the cork out of the bottle and then spilled it's Alsatian contents over my partner. No apology and no replacement for the half bottle lost down my girlfriend's back. The food was shocking. PLEASE HEED THE WARNINGS BELOW AND NEVER VISIT THE CADOGAN ARMS.

Anonymous said...

I found your comment purely by accident and have to say would completely disagree! Looking at the timeline perhaps it is due to changes in the year, but I lunched there the other day and found it delightful! A really full selection on there menu and my bloody mary was perfect, they even remade it for me free of charge when I mentioned it was a tad spicier then I liked! I would strongly recommend you try them again, yes I will agree a tad pricier then Byron's, but if all I wanted was a burger I would of gone there!