Thursday, 6 October 2011
Bread Street Kitchen, St Pauls
I think people have every right to be suspicious of the motives of a man who, already very wealthy from a string of restaurants around the world (not to mention television shows, book deals and product endorsements), decides to open yet another vast, multi-million-pound site. When is enough, enough? Will Gordon Ramsay ever sit down and think "you know what, I think I'm OK for money now. Once we get through this last batch of Gordon Ramsay Milk Frothers (RRP £40) I'm packing it all in and retiring to the Seychelles."
Maybe I'm being cynical in assuming it's even that much about the money anyway. Perhaps Bread Street Kitchen isn't intended to be a cash cow, just the kind of classy, New York meatpacking district restaurant, with its "raw bar" and classic cocktail list, that he himself enjoys eating in and wants to put his name to. You have to say this for Gordon Ramsay - he's never tried to start a Jamie's Italian-style chain of Ramsay Lites, and all his places, successful (Royal Hospital Road) or not (various defunct gastropubs), certain boil-in-the-bag fiascos aside, have at least looked like serious places to eat. As, in fact, does Bread Street Kitchen.
This monumentally huge room, very deliberately expensively decked out, is, even before you get as far as ordering so much as a glass of tap water, a fantastic place to spend an evening. I particularly enjoyed the way a mezzanine level had been built above the bar for rows of backlit wine cabinets, and everything from the furniture to the humorous bric-a-brac lighting was bold and beautiful. As I'm sure I've mentioned before, I only ever notice décor if it's either really bad or really good, and this was definitely the latter.
It's interesting though isn't it, that when restaurants throw huge wads of cash at décor it more often than not shows, whilst doing the same thing for food just produces... expensive food, with no guarantee of quality. Don't get me wrong, the meal we had at Bread Street Kitchen was "nice", "good" even but it seems all too easy to spend way over your budget here and end up with a succession of solid, competent dishes that never quite seem like value. Take the starters:
Stone bass carpaccio with avocado, horseradish and ginger was fine. Rather muted in flavour and we could have done with something more citrusy than horseradish to cut through the blobs of avocado mayonnaise, but still perfectly edible. It was £11 though, and whilst I'm sure that price point has been studied and sculpted by the Ramsay top brass so as to very carefully just fall on the right side of "taking the piss", it's still slightly unnerving. And my tamarind chicken wings certainly lived up to their name, drowning in seemingly nothing but a rather one-note sharp tamarind sauce; they were cooked well with a nice crispy skin though.
Mains were better, but maybe it only seems like that because I went for the cheaper option - an £11 burger - while my friend had a stonking £24 veal chop. Readying myself for yet another "I'm a celebrity please don't sue me" cooked-through greyfest a la Barbecoa, I was delighted to find that the Bread St Kitchen burger is cooked medium rare, and contains a generous (if a bit cricket-ball-shaped) portion of good beef. Topped only with sliced pickles, a gooey layer of remarkably Ogleshield-like Bermondsey Frier cheese ("inspired" rather than "ripped off" from Hawksmoor, perhaps) and with a silky, solid brioche bun, I particularly liked the fact there was no tomato or huge chunks of iceberg in it, just a very thin layer of shredded lettuce underneath. Whilst not perfect, it was still one of the better "gourmet" burgers I've had recently and I was genuinely impressed. The aforementioned veal chop, too, was fantastic - moist inside with thick ribbons of creamy fat, seared to crispy loveliness on the outside and served on the bone.
It seems a bit mean to point a finger at service when the place has hardly been open a month, but while it was never unpleasant or annoying, it was occasionally hilariously scatty. I ordered a daiquiri, it arrived on the rocks but just as I was taking my first sip a waitress appeared next to my table with another one, this time in a martini glass. I looked up, mid-slurp, and before I had a chance to say anything she turned heels and scooted off. At one point during the meal champagne glasses were placed on our table, then following a furtive "not that table" from a more senior front of house, were silently whisked away. Less endearing was the fact that a cocktail I had ordered and they couldn't produce (they'd run out of dry ice - yes it was that kind of cocktail) still appeared on the bill, but it was easily and quickly corrected. I'm sure these kinds of things will settle down so it should never be a reason in of itself not to visit.
So, there's nothing drastically wrong with the place, it's beautifully decked out, the food is fine, the cocktails (based on my daiquiri and what some of my blogger friends have told me about the launch night) are well made and the staff were always charming if not always on the same planet. But, as ever, it all comes down to that question of value. For £42 a head with just one alcoholic drink and two courses each (plus a side), it's expensive. And hand on heart I can't see myself making a special journey to St Pauls (which is not very near to where I work or where I live) when there are places doing this kind of thing better elsewhere, for less. But if you find yourself in the area, desperate for a burger and a cocktail, have £40 burning a hole in your pocket and quite fancy a meal endorsed by an internationally famous celebrity chef, you can certainly do much worse. Jamie Oliver must be seething.