Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Gino D'Acampo's My Restaurant, Euston

On a wet weekday evening on the mezzanine level of Euston station, I and my dining companion are perhaps the only two people that are there only to eat. Ordinarily, the customer base of Gino D'Acampo's My Restaurant would consist of frazzled parents and their kids, intercity commuters and the odd hen party, all nervously guarding their luggage while Virgin Trains pick up the biggest chunks from the floor of the 18:47 departure to Glasgow Central. Nobody chooses to spend their evening at Euston, or any departure hall for that matter, from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Coach Station. Which is generally why they're amongst the most depressing places on the planet.

It's this atmosphere of collective anxiety and gloom that My Restaurant has its work cut out to battle against, and under the harsh Network Rail strip-lighting and to the accompaniment of delayed departure announcements and grim security warnings, there's only so far a jaunty colour scheme and comfy booths will get you. So, perhaps taking a cue from its famously ebullient celebrity owner, front of house are the most insanely overenthusiastic and excitable bunch of people I've come across since the affected theme-park bonhomie of the Hard Rock Café, all young Italian men with giant haircuts flamboyantly flapping their dishclothes around and shouting at each other. Halfway through our meal, one whose shift was ending (and who had already thrown a hoodie over his work jumper) insisted on shaking our hands and curtseying (at least I think that's what it was) before heading downstairs for the tube. It was all quite overwhelming.

Typically, of course, I'd find service at this level of rabid fervour utterly insufferable, and indeed there were a couple of moments I wanted to climb into my glass of Chardonnay and die. But you know what, they meant well. And if they feel the need to engage grumpy food bloggers in banter, even said food blogger made it as clear as he possibly could that he'd rather pull his fingernails out than put up with one more second of it, then I suppose they need something to distract themselves from the reality of working in a train station restaurant.

Anyway, I imagine you'll want to know what the food is like, and on this front - initially - everything went exactly according to plan. Which is to say a sharing platter of charcuterie and bread called somewhat optimistically "Fantastico" contained, for a whacking £24.75, stale old slices of grim supermarket hams, soggy foccacia, bendy grissini and the very worst pesto either of us had come across in our lives, looking and tasting like pond scum. Weirdly, the hams were only stale and dry in parts, and the grissini only chewy at one end, which suggests that the problem may be more storage than sourcing. But it was clear none of it should have been served, and was worth nowhere near the prices being charged.

So far, so predictable. Nobody would expect me to have anything even approaching a nice time at any of the public vote restaurants, and suffering through a board of stale salami while an extravagant Italian performs tricks with cutlery is presumably exactly the kind of thing you came here to read. We awaited our main courses with the familiar gut-punch of dread and hopelessness. Things weren't going well.

And then something very strange happened. A £31 fillet steak in green peppercorn sauce arrived, just two pieces of meat neatly arranged on a plate, with no fripperies and no frills, looking like something you might actually want to eat. I cut into one of the pieces to reveal medium-rare, tender flesh, bleeding in the same way you might expect a perfectly good, perfectly cooked bit of beef to bleed. It tasted, if not like the greatest bit of protein I've ever had access to, then certainly better than I've been asked to eat at far more expensive places, places with tablecloths and cloakrooms and toiliets you don't have to pay 30p to use.

More astonishingly, and yet more confusingly, my friend's crab linguini was actually, well, good. Expertly cooked pasta with plenty of bite and bounce, a good, well-seasoned sauce containing lots of fresh ingredients, a bit heavy on the garlic perhaps but not disastrously so, and loads of sweet white crab meat. Surely the crab wouldn't have been picked on site and was probably frozen, but there's no harm in using pre-prepared seafood, and to pair it with such skill with just the right amount of everything else, and season it fautlessly, requires someone in the kitchen to know exactly what they're doing.

We ate our main courses slowly, and in silence. Like a special effects sequence from a pretentious food documentary, the crowds around us jittered and blurred and spun around in hyperspeed as our little table became the calm, focussed centre of the world. As the last forkful of crab-flecked pasta, and the last morsel of tender fillet steak disappeared from our plates, we came to in an empty dining room, all travellers having left for destinations up the country, and with only a skeleton staff to cheerily wave us goodbye into the dark, rainy night.

So yes, there were mistakes made that should be unforgivable. Nobody should be charging any amount, least of all the price of a ticket to Birmingham, for stale prosciutto and bad pesto, and even the good food was too expensive. The service needs to be dialled several notches back from hysterical, and it will never be particularly pleasant to eat your dinner in a train station departure lounge. All these things are undoubtedly marks against Gino D'Acampo's My Restaurant.

But partly due to the wine - we had quite a bit of it, more for insurance reasons than anything else - but mostly because there are some people in the kitchens of this strange goldfish tank of a space overlooking the station concourse that are clearly taking pride in what they do - we left without the expected fug of queasiness and resentment, but with something almost approaching happiness. A first, after so many years, from a You Decide restaurant. So thank you, the voting public, for this one; I imagine next year I'll be back to visiting car parks in Croydon and rage-tweeting about brownfood, but for this brief moment all I have is gratitude. Gino D'Acampo's My Restaurant isn't bad at all.



Alicia Foodycat said...

Dammit - after Jay Rayner's miserable experience I was sure you'd have a shitty dinner there too.

Pasta Bites said...

How interesting. I must admit, completely surprised. He's from Napoli like me and, while back home nobody knows who he is (Thankfully, I should think), I have faith that he does know a thing or two about italian food, as most of us born and raised there do - as opposed to a certain Jamie who surely didn't grow up with pasta on his everyday table.