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.
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.