Monday, 19 September 2011
It occurred to me, in thinking over my experience at Entrée in Battersea last Friday, that I really don't mention service in my posts very much any more. Fortunately - and hopefully - this is because service across London restaurants is now generally of such a high standard that I run the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum if I make more than a cursory mention, although I realise that is desperately unfair to the waiters and waitresses providing it. The cruel fact is, the better service gets, the less you notice it, as attention is quite rightly diverted to where it matters - the food, and your company at the table. Front of house is only seen when it trips up - fluffed orders, missed requests, knocks and spillages; these will be noted. At its best, service is invisible.
But while knocks and spillages, fluffed orders and long waits can be annoying, I reserve a special dark place in my own personal hell for the in-your-face best-friends-forever type of service. I'm sure you know the kind - an American import, and fortunately still far more prevalent over the pond, it's a style most famously employed by the flare-studded denizens of TGI Fridays or other such garish child-friendly chains. Catherine Tate parodied it brilliantly on her show in the form of mindlessly over-enthusiastic waitress "Amanda, though my friends call me Zebedee", and watching her perform that tedious spiel of practiced zaniness and awkward, charmless "banter" brought back many unhappy memories for me. I'm not much of a people person on the best of days, but when someone I'm paying to bring me my dinner starts acting like they're auditioning for reality TV, I just want the earth to swallow me up.
Which brings me back to Entrée. It's not a bad restaurant. You'd have to do a lot more than serve dull, if competent, food in a pleasant enough building and not charge the earth for it (with wine the bill came to £33 each) to qualify as bad. But someone needs to tell the front of house that they don't need to know "how my day is going", they don't need to check if I'm enjoying myself every thirty seconds, and if I need a recommendation, a drink, a life story, anything, I'll ask for it. Otherwise, do your job and leave me the hell alone. I'm sorry if that sounds harsh but what could have been if not a brilliant but at least mildly enjoyable meal was very nearly spoiled by a member of staff determined to regale us with laborious, practiced chatter at every possible opportunity.
But, the food. An "amuse" of piping hot butternut squash soup was quite well done, but as I'm determined to hang onto what passes as a British summer for as long as possible, there was something faintly depressing about a restaurant reminding you that, in fact, winter is on the way. Kudos for baking their own lemon-spiked hot roll though, at least.
I think I did better with my starter than others. Tuna tartar came with a gentle horseradish and radish mixture, and a slick of buttery avocado. The tartar was unseasoned but came with a neat little bowl of salty breadsticks to dip in, and I rather enjoyed it once I'd managed to get all the elements balanced on the crisp together. Scallop and crab lasagne was very weird, like a big fishy blancmange and I really wasn't keen at all, although it went down well enough with the person who'd ordered it. Lamb sweetbreads were a bit mealy but fine.
Apart from a giant, slimy lump of god-knows-what dumped on top of this dish of chicken ballotines and gnocchi, it was otherwise perfectly good, the chicken sous-vided somehow to preserve moisture in the mix of white and dark meat, and the gnocchi full of flavour. The black trumpet mushrooms were a bit woody and I didn't detect much of the foie gras in the "foie gras sauce", but nothing too offensive. Roasted plaice was cooked very well, though, and the fish of the day (Hake) was also moist and crispy in all the right places.
Despite the OK food though, we couldn't wait to leave, just to escape the relentlessly irritating banter from our waitress. I'm sure she meant well, and all the food arrived in good time and she gets points at the very least for offering tap water without us having to ask, but her whole attitude was so constantly, exhaustingly cringeworthy it was almost enough to put me off my dinner. And believe me, that takes a lot. But if nothing else, the experience at the wrong end of service at Entrée just served to highlight the fantastic job most other restaurants do, and how rarely the heroes of London's front of house get the recognition they deserve. So thank God for the teams at Roganic, Galvin at Windows, the Polpo chain, the Crooked Well, José and anywhere else it's possible to enjoy a meal without interruption, irritation or interrogation. We may not often say it, but it really is always appreciated.
Sorry about the poor photos - it's dark in there.