Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Holborn Whippet, Bloomsbury


Sometimes I even surprise myself with my capacity to get annoyed about bad food. You'd think by now, wouldn't you, after 33 years on the planet, the best part of a decade in London and six years writing a restaurant blog, that a disappointing dinner would just be one of those things, a professional hazard, a passing inconvenience, water off a (force-fed) duck's back.


And yet, the opposite seems to be the case. I find myself getting increasingly grumpy whenever dinner I've paid good money for isn't up to scratch. I take it personally when I'm on the receiving end of some half-assed fusion concept or desperate bandwagon-jumping relaunch. I heave great sighs of anguish over a feeble steak, a sugary Pad Thai or stale Yorkshire Pudding. Perhaps I'm spoiled after so long spent seeking out the very best the city has to offer, but my capacity for disappointment seems to be at an all-time low; and what's worse is that the harder I try to avoid such disappointments, the more often they seem to be thrust upon me.


Take my lunch today, for example. The Holborn Whippet is a newish craft beer bar and diner at the end of Sicilian Avenue in Holborn. Sicilian Avenue is one of those hugely over-elaborate Victorian arcades which at one time you would have hoped housed fine jewellers and shops selling gentlemen's smoking accessories but now, given presumably sky-high rents and its proximity to main tourist drags like the British Museum and Covent Garden, is mainly populated by dreadful nationwide chains like Spaghetti House. But the Whippet is not a chain (at least not yet), and thanks to a very tasteful job on the interior and an impressive line-up of proper beers behind the bar, I had high hopes a similar effort may have been spent on the food. I can't emphasise that enough - I had every right to believe that lunch at the Holborn Whippet would have been worth paying for. I did nothing wrong.


The first creeping elements of doubt appeared once I'd had the chance to study the menu in more detail. The Whippet club sandwich, for example, is described somewhat unnecessarily as "two or three slices of toasted bread with mayonnaise and slices are held together by small sticks". The steak sandwich is apparently both "padded with roasted vine tomatoes" and "Severed[sic] with crinkle fries" which makes it sound rather dangerous. All menu items, in fact, seem to be paired entirely randomly with either "crinkle fries" or "string fries" apart from the Bloomsbury Burger (a name they're so pleased with they've seen fit to TradeMark(TM) it) which is "served with string and crinkle fries", which either means two different types of potato product on one plate, which would be odd enough, or, er, some string.


As it turns out, the Bloomsbury Burger(TM) comes with neither string fries or crinkle fries (or even string) but a mound of pappy school-canteen chips pointlessly scattered with parsley. The burger itself looked the part at first - the glazed brioche bun reminded me somewhat of Goodman's, and there appeared to be a nice dark crust on the two rounds of beef - until a bite revealed watery, grey meat of barely supermarket mince standard. "Cheese" (an optional extra for 50p and not included as standard) was in fact a very strong blue of some kind, cold and unmelted, that had been sandwiched in between the two patties and did nothing but utterly overwhelm the tasteless meat. Salad and some decent sliced pickles did the best job they could, but the battle was already lost.


Oh yes alright then, you can probably have a decent time here if you stuck to the beers and didn't eat. I'll have to give them that. And a few years ago I wouldn't have been anywhere near as harsh on the burger, either - I certainly still wouldn't have enjoyed it but perhaps I would have said that at least the bun was good and the pickles came sliced and it still cost less than a tenner. But unfortunately for the Holborn Whippet this is 2012 not 2008. The very first thing a new diner opening up in central London should do is check out the competition; and either they have, and are unable or unwilling to do things properly, or they haven't, in which case they deserve everything they have coming to them.

Anyway, I don't think serving a nice range of craft beers is ever going to be a good enough excuse for serving crappy food. They're still charging for the stuff, none of it comes free with a drink. It was still my lunch hour they spoiled, my money they took, and had I only bought a club sandwich "held together with small sticks" to soak up twelve pints of Adnams Gold I most likely still would have considered it a waste of money. So, damage done, all I can do is ensure that as many other people as possible don't make the same mistake, and make a solemn promise to try extra hard to avoid any such disappointments in the future. Wish me luck.

3/10

Holborn Whippet on Urbanspoon

38 comments:

thefworld.org said...

I pass by every morning and eve on my way to/from the office...was tempted by the craft beers but looks like you've saved me from a terrible food experience. Thanks ;)

tania_nexust said...

Urgh. Rogue apostrophe on menu; that would be enough to kill my appetite. Will check it out for the beer though if I'm in the area.

Hugh Wright said...

Don't give a toss about burgers as you know, but parsley on chips is fecking inexcusable.

Have to say I think it's perhaps a bit hard on a new business though to say 'all I can do is ensure that as many other people as possible don't make the same mistake' based on one single menu item. Sure you don't like a crap burger, and maybe a burger is a belwether of how good the rest of the food might be, and I can picture you at this very moment going red and saying something about it being 'cynical', but let's keep some sense of proportion. Don't make it your avowed intent to screw a business over just because you ate one thing and didn't like it - that's just mean. Which I don't think you are, deep down.

Andrew Stevenson said...

You missed that the "Sirloin Steak on Ciabatta" is "rib eye grilled to perfection" - worrying that they can't tell the difference. (Not to mention the "to perfection" nonsense.)

By the way, Sicilian Avenue is early 20th Century: I think it's earlier than Poirot, but I've always thought it would make a good setting.

Spaghetti House isn't national: just London. The Sicilian Avenue one's been there for yonks, possibly since the 50s or 60s. It was the first place I took myself for lunch when I first moved to London. It was ok, I suppose, but I never went back.

Helen said...

The Argentinians do something rather lovely with parsley and garlic on chips. I seriously doubt that's what they had in mind though...

Anonymous said...

So you are at Goodman’s tweeting about 60 day aged steak, yet like ripping into a £8 burger, that looks pretty good in the photo. What was the point? What next kicking the local Thai based on your preference for Peter Thompson's. Completely out of touch. Either review simple food or stick to the high end, where you seem to prefer.

You had one burger and then lied about a beer that does not even exist.

LeeLoreya said...

Funny how these blog or newspaper reviews pop up in my life most conveniently or with that fine sprinkle of chance - a few weeks ago good ole Jay Rayner reviewed a lovely pub in Newcastle which I had just been to and at the time even thought oh Jay Rayner would probably love this place (the menu is full of pig; and I do often think of Jay Rayner when I eat yes, pathetic).

This one however is a blessing. I've drank at the place on many occasions and find it perfectly decent - good pale ales rotating, plenty of place to sit and no pub smell/sticky surfaces to deal with. Was gonna try out their burgers later on this with an ale loving friend but I've read your blog for a while, enough to trust your judgement on these matters.

Hence now being a bit scratching my head on where to eat on Thursday night considering the culinary no man's land that is Holborn; me being a bit too skint for Hawskmoor these days; and the occasion deserves more than MeatWagon; and I would not want to travel as I will be starving from boxing and will be craving meat a la Fred Flintstone.

In any case, your deed is done - many kind thanks for saving at least one poor carnivore a terrible meal - well done :)

LeeLoreya said...

Funny how these blog or newspaper reviews pop up in my life most conveniently or with that fine sprinkle of chance - a few weeks ago good ole Jay Rayner reviewed a lovely pub in Newcastle which I had just been to and at the time even thought oh Jay Rayner would probably love this place (the menu is full of pig; and I do often think of Jay Rayner when I eat yes, pathetic).

This one however is a blessing. I've drank at the place on many occasions and find it perfectly decent - good pale ales rotating, plenty of place to sit and no pub smell/sticky surfaces to deal with. Was gonna try out their burgers later on this with an ale loving friend but I've read your blog for a while, enough to trust your judgement on these matters.

Hence now being a bit scratching my head on where to eat on Thursday night considering the culinary no man's land that is Holborn; me being a bit too skint for Hawskmoor these days; and the occasion deserves more than MeatWagon; and I would not want to travel as I will be starving from boxing and will be craving meat a la Fred Flintstone.

In any case, your deed is done - many kind thanks for saving at least one poor carnivore a terrible meal - well done :)

dudara said...

It may be a harsh judgement on my part, but anywhere that garnishes chips with parsley is not worth frequenting. I shuddered when I saw your photo of the burger and chips.

David said...

Pretty low marks "Holborn Whippetd" get, but I have to agreed with you...well maybe I give 4 from 10.

JCR said...

Wow, you really are a self important plonker. What a way to screw a new business - some perspective would be good, it's a burger in a pub. I shall now make a point of going out of my way to try out the HW after this hatchet job. Shame on you.

Ed Sheridan said...

What JCR said. It's a burger in a pub. It's cheap, it's great for the price. You're disappointed it doesn't match one of the 'new wave' places you love so much, who do nothing but burgers, and fairly middle of the road beer, Sebright Arms excepted.

Wait til you get a load of the Euston Tap - they phone a TAKEAWAY pizza in for you, should you order food. the only 'service' you're doing is hopefully keeping a few self-important blowhards out of a thoroughly decent pub.

Chris Pople said...

Hugh: Thanks for your comment, as ever. But my intention definitely wasn't to screw anyone over for no reason. I just think that the best part of £10 for an objectively poor burger, fries & soft drink is too much. Perhaps I came across as a little vitriolic (SO unlike me, I know) but honestly, it was not good food and I can guarantee that if most people went and had the same lunch as I did, they'd agree it wouldn't be worth going back for. Which I guess is the point I was trying to make, amidst all the petulance.

Anon/JCR/Ed Sheridan: I assume you're all connected with the Whippet in some way, or the Tap group. I like all good burgers, and steaks, at any price. A quick look through my back catalogue should prove that well enough. I don't like bad steak, or bad burgers. This was a bad burger. Perhaps I could have been *nicer* (whatever that means) or perhaps I could have entertained the idea that the rest of the menu I didn't order was a work of culinary genius, however unlikely that might be. But none of that changes the fact I had a bad lunch and then wrote about it. I just don't know what else to say - it's not a conspiracy, it's nothing personal, I just had a bad lunch.

JCR said...

Chris -I am in absolutely no way connected to the Whippet. Your review on flat iron really got my hackles up and this was the icing on the cake. Lots of new places starting up in really difficult economic circumstances and you unhelpfully slamming them with only one visit is not going to help them florish. I really think you lost perspective on this one, it is a beer lead pub and an £8 burger is hardly worthy of such a scathing review.

James Lewis said...

It's a shame because the idea of a craft beer pub in Holborn (Craft Beer Co Leather Lane style) was genuinely exciting, and I was really looking forward to the 'coal oven' (whatever that is). Shame the kitchen lazily decided to knock out boring old burgers like every other chain pub in existence. The problem is, it is no longer 1995, when any old burger that wasn't McD was an exciting novelty. To to a burger now it has to be very good, or it will be slated as it has been here.

Chris Pople said...

JCR: Apologies, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. But you raise an interesting point - why would I *want* to "help" bad places "flourish"? There are a huge number of brilliant new restaurants in London that deserve to do well (many listed on this blog, see Duck & Waffle, Rita's, Lima, and so on). I'm not a restaurant consultant, and I have no desire to see anywhere serving bad, overpriced food carry on doing so. It goes without saying that what constitutes "bad" food is somewhat subjective, but if I don't like it I'm fairly sure plenty of other people won't either.

But definitely please go and try out the Whippet for yourself and report back. I have a feeling you may see where I'm coming from (even if you don't get *quite* so angry about it :) )

JCR said...

Chris - I'm not angry, I'm a lover not a fighter! No need to "help" a restaurant where you have a bad experience, but in my opinion, t'was a little harsh on a small, new-ish business, especially based off one visit! Personally, I'd have given them a little more breathing space, but we are all entiteled to our opinion! However, despite massive burger fatigue (!!) I shall now have to try a burger (I was hoping to get away with just beers!), and I'll let you know. And based on your review of L'enclume, I'm planning a visit oop North asap! J

Chris Pople said...

JCR: L'Enclume is miraculous, you won't regret it.

Lucky Chip Soho is next on my list (what fatigue?)

Owen said...

The pub has already announced that they're reworking (at least for spelling and grammar) their menu by noon today, so the review has done some good.

Defending poor product because of the economic climate is counterproductive. Poor product should be the first to fail, and people who don't improve when told their product is poor should take priority.

JCR said...

I love the Lakes, so perfect excuse for a trip. I was there the weekend before you published it, so didnt know about it, annoying!

Rather you than me ;-) I don't want to see another "steamed dirtee burger in demi-brioche bun" for a long time....

Ed Sheridan said...

I have no idea why you automatically think that anyone who disagrees with you must be connected with the venue. I just drink there.

The HW is NOT a restaurant, nor does it claim to be. the burger is a damn sight cheaper than the usual list of burger gaffs, which by the way are concepted around the burger in question - you might not have noticed over your no-doubt enjoyable pint of Adnams Gold, but the HW is concepted around beer.

Maybe a beer blogger should hit a bunch of the burger places and tear them a new one over the mediocre beers they sell? In the name of 'public service' or whatever it is you claim to provide on here.

Anonymous said...

The arrogance and snobbery displayed in this review is hilarious. You've made yourself sound like a complete arse. You aren't a broadsheet food critic. You're a jumped-up wannabe hack using a review of a tiny independent craft beer bar to be vitriolic for the hell of it.

It sucks, frankly. I wonder how much semen you're going to start ingesting in your dinners in future? Bet you've had a few jonnies worth already. Adds seasoning, you know.

Northern Magpie said...

Anonymous - if you think a person deserves to eat spunk for having an opinion on a meal they've paid for then frankly you're the idiot who sounds like a complete arse. If it's acceptable in your culinary world for a waiter to jack off into somebody's grub then I think I will be trusting Chris's opinion on where I should eat rather than yours.

Holla said...

Being a somewhat sarcastic, cynical type of fellow myself I personally very much enjoy Chris's take on his experiences, and probably all the moreso when they don't live up to expectations. That said, i'd rather hear bout somewhere coming up with the goods rather than failing miserably, and i'm sure Chris would like to experience similarly.

What makes me laugh though are all the defensive comments slating him for posting a negative review. Firstly, if you find his style so "pretentious" (although quite why you would is beyond me)then why the fuck are you spending any time around here in the first place? And pray tell, what exactly is pretentious about knowing what you like and giving a thorough explanation about why you don't think this standard was achieved by the meal he was served?

And snippy comments about this place's recent opening or drink focus aside, surely the fact they serve food, which may not cost the earth but certainly isn't dirt cheap either, leaves them open to judgement? The man's simply telling it as he finds. Agree, disagree, the choice is yours, but do us all a favour and don't start carping on about being unfair.

A shit meal deserves a shit review. End of. And this really does sound (and look) like a shit meal.

Ed Sheridan said...

Holla, you sound like you're fishing to move in with Chris at some point.

Meatliqor do cans of Vedett, often warm - a beer most Italian plumbers wouldn't touch.

Would it be fair to kick the stuffing out of them on the strength of this? After all, they are asking us to part with cash for an inferior product. I can't help it, I have high standards.

Redhaired Writer said...

Longtime reader, first-time commenter. Disclaimer: I love this blog, and use it as my gauge to find new restaurants, as I agree with about 90% of what is posted here. But lately it seems like this blog is a hater-magnet - to which I say, oy vey, the vitriol!

People, this is a food blog on the internet, yes? So it will contain the personal views of the blogger, yes? And it is a free country (sort-of), so said blogger is allowed his opinion, yes? The thing is, like Holla says, a shit meal is a shit meal. It has nothing to do with economics - the poorest roadside shack in many parts of the world will be dishing up the most delicious grub, and surviving because the food is good, not because passers-by feel sorry for the owners, or beholden to buy crap produce out of a sense of civic duty, so that argument is at the very least not brilliant.

Also, as far as I am aware, a beer blogger could indeed review anywhere they want at any time, including well-established burger joints (see my earlier point about this being the internet), so I don't really get the point of that one? Again, it's a free country.

Lastly, the argument that the place doesn't need to serve decent food, as its primary purpose is not as a restaurant is so. fucking. depresssing. Please do not drag us back to the dark days of culinary life in this country where at best you could hope for a soggy Ploughman's and a packet of Scampi Fries* as the best food options in a pub. It doesn't have to be this way my friends, and it is actually the exposure of crap food rather than letting it slide which will ensure we don't have to return to the bloody dark ages. Because bad food? There is really no excuse.


*I fucking love Scampi Fries, what a hypocrite.

Holla said...

Ed - how grown up and mature of you. I disagree with you and side with the writer, ergo I must automatically have a crush on him. Top work mate, really.

Perhaps you need to go stick to beer blogs instead, given your obvious strength of feeling about booze over fodder. And leave the food blogs to the adults among us.

Chris Pople said...

Ed Sheridan (kudos for not being anonymous at least): Being "concepted around beer" is absolutely (as others have more eloquently pointed out) no excuse for bad food. As I said in the review, it's not provided free with the beer, you have to pay for it. And I didn't like it. I'm not sure why this is making you so upset?

Anon: This is a food blog, and this is a review of a not very good restaurant in Holborn which you have (for whatever crazy reason) chosen to read. I am not, nor have I ever been, vitriolic "for the sake of it". I am vitriolic because I paid for a very bad lunch. Is it so unusual to come to a restaurant blog and find a review of a restaurant? Have you read any of my other posts or have you just assumed that I only visit shit places so I can tear into them here? Because if you have, you're wrong.

Ed Sheridan (again): If you have a beer blog and you go to MeatLiquor and have a crappy beer then of course, yes! In fact, go ahead, do it, fill your boots. You'd be warning beer lovers away, and people who just like nice food will carry on going and be happy. I have absolutely no idea what point you're trying to make.

Winerackd said...

There is never a good enough reason to do food badly, cheap or not, good beer or not. Nevertheless, anyone who doesn't want parsley sprinkled all over their chips (I grow my own parsley just so I can sprinkle at home) is a feckin idiot.

catty said...

Hehehe! I for one, enjoyed this post just for the read - seeing as I am no longer in London so not at risk of wandering into the Holborn Whippet. I have only one comment in response to... I can't remember who? Someone who said you should be nicer as it's just a burger in a pub. Um, how about no? A burger anywhere is a burger you've paid money for. No excuse to serve up crappy food. For the record one of my favourite burgers here in Sydney is at a corner pub.. it is delicious every time and only AU$10 WITH awesome rosemary chips.

Anonymous said...

I follow Holborn Whippet on Twitter (and they follow me). I love the craft beer revolution and general real ale resurgence that's going on at the moment, so I was planning to visit them soon.

But after their behaviour on Twitter yesterday I am now not so well disposed towards them. Nothing to do with this review - I'd have gone for beers not a meal. I just wouldn't feel so comfortable in a pub that I thought was being run by arseholes.

Lesson 1: don't throw your toys out of pram in public. Lesson 2: don't do it with multiple accounts that confuse the heck out of everyone and make you look even more like a bunch of loons.

Foodycat said...

LeeLoreya - I haven't been there in a while but 32 Great Queen St never disappointed me, and was very good value, if you find yourself hungry in Holborn!

Chris, I was on a bus stopped next to the HW yesterday and thought "That looks nice" - now I know just to have a beer (and maybe chips. I like the idea of the parsley!)

Paul Hart said...

See also Cask in Pimlico for great beer but shite food.

thedaydreamkitchen said...

It's not a restaurant, it's a pub, and a good one too. The beer is well priced and food is (the way I see it) more of an add on. I've had the burger there and while it's not on the Honest Burger scale of things it was decent for the money. It was better than yours looked incidentally, as were the chips, so I expect it could easily have been an off day in the ktchen - these things happen.

I might judge a gastro pub harshly for poor food, but not somewhere like the Whippet which is providing a range of excellent beers in an area that could do with that. This review is a bit like going into an infant Hawksmoor and slating the place cos of some shoddy bottle on the wine list. Ie - missing the point.

Sam

Paul Hart said...

@daydreamkitchen this whole pub vs restaurant argument is entirely redundant; take the Ship @Wandsworth for example. That's just a pub but it serves a fecking cracking burger. Brewdog in Camden as well; specialises in beer does a decent burger. Pubs can serve decent food. It's not a myth...

LeeLoreya said...

Foodycat - Thank you! 32 Great Queen Street is indeed marvellous, I'm booked in for tomorrow eve!

Also is it just me or the idea of grabbing an overpriced (but very nice) cake from Orchard, the veggie cafe adjacent to the Whippet and having it with one of the darker ales would solve all this mallarky (sp?)... ?

Ian said...

Surely, if it serves food and charges for food, it can be judged on its food? And if the food is crap, and you have paid for it, you have every right to say so.

If you think he's wrong, say so, but I don't see how anyone can question his right to say what he feels on somewhere that is taking money and offering a service.

Anonymous said...

Went along the other evening and they have indeed revised the menu.

The beers were pretty good but the staff came over as unfriendly and not a little pretentious. We ate elsewhere.