Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Henrietta Bistro, Covent Garden

To be completely honest, Henrietta wasn't our first choice restaurant for this particular evening. We had first tried our luck at Flatiron next door, only to be told the wait, on a cold Thursday night, was two hours. Next we tried Din Tai Fung, which would have been my third visit in the space of a week (very happily so), only to find out that would be an hour or so as well. So we split the distance, and tried our luck at Henrietta, where fortunately they managed to find room for the two of us on a large table near the kitchens usually reserved for parties of six or more. The front of house's accommodating nature, especially given the previous knockbacks, came as a very welcome relief; even if the food had only been OK, we still would have been pretty happy.

In the end, the food was largely much better than OK - not perfect across the board, but thoughtful, and attractive, and generally pretty good value. In case you weren't aware, Henrietta began life as the second solo venture for chef Ollie Dabbous, and by all accounts did more than enough to occupy his time before the vast, flashy Hide opened on Piccadilly. These days by all accounts he's not involved, but it's hard to shake the feeling that these precise, attractive dishes owe more than a little debt to his style (described as "game-changing" back in the day by Fay Maschler) even if the ingredients are now more solidly Mediterranean than Modern British.

By accident rather than design (we ordered fairly quickly, still mildly frazzled from being knocked back at FlatIron and DTF), we ended up with three raw meat dishes. Best of the bunch was the tuna tartare, topped with a generous amount of truffle, and bound with an umami-rich tahini dressing. There was more main ingredient than you had any right to expect for £14, and full marks too for using real winter truffle instead of the tasteless cheaper variety.

Beef tartare came in a little canopy of sliced raw mushroom, if I'm being brutal probably more about aesthetics than taste, but still enjoyable enough. The beef was enhanced with a few chunks of anchovy - always a nice match - and was certainly amongst the better raw beef dishes I've been served in recent months. Also, at £10, one of the best value.

Unfortunately, octopus carpaccio was not a success. Completely devoid of seasoning and flavour, it was like eating a plate of soggy tissue paper - even little blobs of puréed avocado managed to be utterly without personality. Also, isn't it funny/annoying that whenever restaurants season their food perfectly there's always redundant salt & pepper shakers on the table, but whenever you're in desperate need to add your own seasoning they're nowhere to be seen? With a bit of table salt this may have been somewhat salvaged - without, it was a chore.

So Henrietta Bistro aren't perfect. But how many places are? And one dish wasn't enough to spoil our evening, especially when we could fill up on an absolutely superb sticky sourdough spread with espelette (chilli) butter. If I was a professional critic I'd probably have made an effort to discover whether they make the bread in-house or get it in from somewhere like E5 bakehouse or Hedone, but all you need to know is that it was very good.

The unreconstructed reverse-snob in me couldn't help finishing the meal on burger and chips, and I'm very glad I did. Powerfully-flavoured Basque beef blended with txistorra (a kind of chorizo) was exactly medium-rare and wonderfully juicy, and the soft cheese they'd used had both enough funk to match the beef and a great melted texture. It's true that I'd still rather it all came in a normal seeded burger bun than a floury English muffin (not sure of the thinking behind that) but it was still a very nice thing for £10.

Chips were basically perfect. Golden brown (ignore my useless iPhone photography), crunchy outside and creamy within, seasoned perfectly and with a good, rich potato flavour dusted only gently with dried rosemary, they instantly go near the top of my personal best chips in London list, alongside Hawksmoor's triple cooked and the beef dripping chips at Blacklock. It would be worth coming to Henrietta Bistro for these alone - these are seriously destination chips.

A couple of things I wouldn't order again, and many things I very much would, still adds up to a meal worth talking about. With a glass of wine the bill came to £68 for two, which is essentially right in the sweet spot of what you'd expect to pay for food like this, and is hardly unreasonable. True, it was our third choice out of three restaurants that evening, and probably deserves to be, but in a road containing so many big-hitters (please do go to Flatiron and Din Tai Fung, they're great) that they can still hold their head high in such company is much to be applauded. On another cold Thursday evening with my first choices oversubscribed, I could easily find myself back. That said, if I was in the mood for some chips, I wouldn't try anywhere else first at all.


Apologies for the bad photos - it was dark in there, and I didn't have my Big Camera.

1 comment:

SFSusan said...

I had a similar experience last spring, starting with being unable to get into somewhere else nearby. I had a delicious lamb vegetable soup... clear broth with just enough lamb fat to make the tastiest lip gloss ever. Broth seldom has this much flavor, and the perfectly undercooked spring veggies were a bonus.