Wednesday, 13 November 2013
People quite often - and often quite rightly - have a habit of factoring in the ease of getting to a restaurant into their overall appraisal of a place. It makes sense, doesn't it, that you'd be more pleasantly disposed towards somewhere you could reach by foot in five minutes than somewhere objectively better but requiring a horrendous multi-stage tube/bus/tram/rickshaw journey. I think Mien Tay Battersea, for example, is much better than Mien Tay Shoreditch even though both are owned by the same people, have exactly the same menus and serve very similar crowds of youngish middle-class Londoners; I suspect the only actual difference is that one I can wobble home from in under a minute, and one I can't, but I swear the honey-glazed quail is always that much crispier and tastier on Lavender Hill. And that prejudice suits me very well.
I can only assume, therefore, that the well-heeled lot patronising 500 in Archway - every table taken on a cold Monday night in late October - and the hundreds of people leaving positive reviews on sites like London Eating and Urbanspoon must all live within a stone's throw of the place, because I'm afraid this SW11er couldn't find much to enjoy at all.
House bread, often the first bit of food you get to try in any given restaurant and a pretty good barometer of what's to follow, was stale and dull, a few bits of dry tomato bread and a greasy, crumbly foccacia. They had, I think, made it on-site but if you're going to go to that effort, why not wait until a bit later in the day so that it actually shows? Or it could have been leftovers from yesterday. Either way, not good.
We ordered a burrata starter to share, just so we had something to counter the carb-fest to follow, and they do at least get points for dividing it up into two separate plates to save us fighting over the same piece. But this lump of unexciting cheese, with very little creamy burrata filling, was covered with a mound of slimy roast veg smothered in oil, all of which was teeth-achingly chilly. It arrived mere seconds after it had been ordered, obviously straight from the fridge, a brazen display of infuriating laziness.
Against expectations by this stage, the mains were pretty good. My £18 plate of buttered tagliatelle came with so much shaved white truffle it is surely one of the great truffle bargain dishes of London - it is barely cheaper than this wholesale. The truffle wasn't the freshest but had enough of that funky, funghi flavour (sorry) to make it worthwhile and the pasta was bouncy and silky and lubricated with just enough butter without being sickly.
Ravioli came in a generous portion and were at least cooked to the same standard as the tagliatelle, but I'm not entirely convinced the swirls of sweet balsamic improved matters much, or the rather dry pork filling, or for that matter the soggy deep-fried sage dumped on top. But, you know, they were edible, and my friend who had ordered it, and was Italian, said they were better than the ones she'd had at Trullo. Which is an endorsement of sorts.
So our evening at 500 wasn't a complete waste of time. But were it not for the lure of the bargain-basement white truffle and decent pasta, we couldn't have found much home to write home about. Everyone deserves a good neighbourhood restaurant, and yes I know my experience of the place is tainted by the struggle to get back across town to home. My advice though, even if you happen to live in the flat directly above 500 on Holloway Road, is to get on the tube - there's better out there, and some things are worth travelling for.