Monday, 4 August 2014
Perhaps we should have had the crab toast advertised as a special on the chalkboard outside. Perhaps we should have steered away from the whole roast rabbit, a fairly unforgiving animal that even the best restaurants struggle to present. And maybe trusting anyone to pickle their own herring is asking for trouble, the complexities of fish preserving techniques being a big ask for quite experienced Scandinavian chefs never mind a local Battersea resaturant trying to fill out a dinner menu.
But the ugly truth is, if we are able to choose this many dud dishes from a menu that barely covers a side of A4, then the problem surely isn't our unnerving bad luck, it's that the restaurant in question - Source, formerly Ransome's Dock - simply isn't any good.
Even before the starters arrived, there were warning signs. Cocktails were OK (a slightly sweet Mojito, and a very weird Negroni "flip" served up with a huge amount of egg white, like a bitter unset meringue) and service friendly, but there was no house bread offered, and you wonder what on earth was going through their heads offering a smaller version of the grilled scallop dish to each of us as an amuse, when one of us had ordered the full version as a starter anyway!?
Said scallop dish, both the starter size and its diminutive amuse cousin, would have tasted sad and grey and lazy enough even if there wasn't traces of grit swimming around at the bottom of the shell; the broad beans at least were good, all buttery and properly skinned, and there was plenty of it all, but the vast scallop just made more of that cheap, soily seafood to wade through and in the end there wasn't much to enjoy.
A lovely, daintily-dressed salad and some surprisingly clever chunks of cucumber jelly were sadly still not enough to distract from the fact that the main ingredient in the other starter, slices of pickled herring, were formless, throughly unpleasant mush. I'm sure the aforementioned Scandi expert could tell me what they'd done wrong here - pickled too long, or too slowly, or with not enough vinegar? Who knows - but the end result was like eating fizzy fish paste glued to rubber bands.
And the less said about the rabbit the better. Ballotine-ing and sous-vide-ing the loin is probably a good idea in principle, but I imagine what you're not supposed to end up with is neat discs of wet cotton wool wrapped in shoe leather, which is what we had here. The legs were sinewy and so dry it was difficult to make an objective distinction between the supposedly edible meat and the strings of cartilage that tied it all together like fish netting. Gravy was actually quite nice, but was best used as a dipping sauce for the potato wedges (better hot than once cooled when they turned rock solid) than wasted trying to make the rabbit worth eating. It was all rather depressing.
It wasn't even cheap. The rabbit was £30 for two, which is a lot for what is essentially badly cooked vermin, and a final bill of £100 for two with a bottle of the cheapest white wine is about what I'd expect to pay in the Dairy, one of the very best restaurants in London right now, where attention to detail and an expert command of technique make the attempts made at Source look even more amateurish.
We didn't stick around for dessert. There's every chance the pastry chef at Source is a master in their field, that their chocolate fondant is a thing of wonder and their blood orange sorbet would make Escoffier blush. It's just as likely that we were desperately unlucky with our main courses and that the rest of the menu is a tour-de-force of modern British cooking. And by "just as likely" I mean "not very likely at all really". No, there was only one decision that could have improved our dinner that night - choosing a different restaurant entirely.