Tuesday, 19 March 2013
Master & Servant, Shoreditch
Damn you Quality Chop House. Not because you're not a good restaurant - I'm fairly confident you are - but because, thanks to a power cut last night you were closed, and having got myself in the mind for a nice meal out I decided to stay on the 243 bus and try a new place in Hoxton Square instead of just going home and having some reheated pizza. Which would have been a far less painful option, as it turns out.
But there's no point wondering what could have been. What's done is done. And instead of adding my voice to the tidal wave of praise for Quality Chop House, which I fully intend to do as soon as soon their lights are back on, I'll have to tell you about Master & Servant. It's in Hoxton Square, it serves (eventually) a menu of modern British dishes, and I wish I'd gone straight home and reheated some pizza instead.
The first sign something was wrong was the fact that for most of the long, long time we spent sat in that draughty dining room, we were the only customers. Master & Servant is still a relatively new place - it replaces a mediocre Thai restaurant which never seemed to have anyone in it either - but even so you'd expect a bit more interest from the new restaurant capital of London (Shoreditch) than that, especially given the menu reads rather well. Oysters, devilled duck hearts, half crab & mayonnaise, ox cheek and celeriac - these are crowd-pleasing dishes that when made well could lift any jaded diner's heart. So it was with great optimism we ordered a few of them and waited for the show to begin.
And waited. And waited. One glass of wine turned into three, house bread was nibbled at then picked off then replaced. Six o'clock turned into seven, and still no sign of any food. Then just as we were wondering if we shouldn't just cut and run (oh how I wish we had), a commotion on the other side of the room. The good news was that our starters had arrived; the bad news was that the waitress had accidentally tipped the whole lot of them down the stairs and so we had to wait - again - for them to be replaced.
Mystifyingly, although it had taken a full hour for Master & Servant to make some food to throw down the stairs, it took only another 5 minutes to replace those same dishes and bring them to the table. Even so, we soon wished they hadn't bothered. Grilled duck hearts, to pick the first thing we tried, were a winning combination of greasy and over-vinegared, like they'd been soaked in cold oil then doused in Sarson's. Very bizarre.
House sausages tasted OK at first but had a distressing farty aftertaste which lingered well into the late evening. They came presented on two whole baked onions which tasted like whole baked onions. And a grilled quail was completely unseasoned and desperately dull, despite having been crisped up on the grill to a good texture. Kudos to Master & Servant at least for finding a way of making quail boring; I never would have thought it possible until last night.
After those three abominations, we awaited the arrival of the one main course - lemon sole - with a combination of morbid curiosity and terror. It didn't disappoint. Overcooked and mushy, with a skin of grey leather that peeled off like soggy kitchen towel, it was covered in a mound of pickled salsify which cleverly managed to highlight the lack of seasoning in the fish, as well as being inedibly sweet itself. And even a day later the memory of a side of "courgettes, cumin & yoghurt" is making me gag - that's cold, slimy courgettes, shredded into thick noodles for who knows what reason, and topped with a blob of cumin-thickened yoghurt. "It tastes", said my friend, "like armpit sweat and deodorant".
To give Master & Servant a grain of credit where due, they did take a couple of glasses of wine off the bill to apologise for the wait, which I suppose is something. But even with a discount the total came to £70, which is still approximately £70 more than what it was worth.
It was in shock as much as sadness, though, that we paid up and queasily slunk out. More than anything, it just didn't seem fair. We did nothing wrong - we ordered in good faith, carefully and in a promising area of town, in an attractively designed restaurant with a very appealing menu. And yet somehow events had conspired to produce a truly terrible meal. What had we done to deserve it?
Anyway, lesson learned. Next time I have it in my mind to visit a new restaurant that everyone's talking about, and it's closed for whatever reason, I won't try and find a short notice backup on the same bus route. I'll turn around and go home and reheat some pizza. Sometimes it's best to know when you're beaten.