Monday, 12 August 2019

Siren, Victoria


Workplace management training always advises 'bookending' employee criticism between two elements of good news or encouragement. "You've always got nice clean shoes," you would start, before moving on to "...but your mislabelling of laboratory chemicals yesterday led directly to the deaths of 300 people. That said, it should be a lot easier to find a seat on the bus home from now on!". And so on. The bad news is still bad, but cushioned so closely by the psychological props of the good news, you're less likely to take it to heart.


I'm going to try that trick in this post on Siren, a seafood restaurant in Goring Hotel, because although - sorry to say - the main event proved a bit of a letdown, there were, and forgive the corporate-speak, positives to take away from the experience. First of all, it's impossible not to be completely smitten by Siren's dining area. Constructed partly of reclaimed former Goring bar area, and partly by building a conservatory out into the garden, they've ended up with a bright and beautiful space with - weather and time permitting - nothing to separate you from the manicured lawns below. Unfortunately, mid-evening the windows get shut - probably something to do with neighbourhood noise levels - and I think I'd feel a bit miffed if, like the couple arriving at 9pm, they had fully 2 minutes to soak up the view before that amenity was removed.


I wasn't a huge fan of the Grasshopper cocktail - it tasted rather like mouthwash, and looked like it too - but although the Garden Negroni had a similarly dentist-y look it managed to taste pretty normal so that was a relief. Staff, both in the bar and the restaurant (is there a distinction? I couldn't work it out) were enthusiastic, and friendly, and win points for advising us not to order too many chips and mix up the sides a little. But whether from inexperience or the sheer unworkability of the concept generally, they struggled when it came to making sense of the main courses.


But before that, starters. I may as well admit now that I didn't get to try all of them - this monkfish tartare with fennel and ginger looked the part and was declared "nice" but I can't give you any more detail than that...


...and lobster and pea tart, which also looked very pretty, was in fact slightly less well received. A bit subdued in flavour, by all accounts, though again I can't confirm.


Of the ones I did get to try, the scallops with rosemary and orange butter would almost certainly have benefitted from a more confident crust, and I don't think I'm being too unreasonable in thinking £11 per scallop is a little on the dear side, even for a 5 star hotel, but they had a nice sweet flavour and weren't terrible.


And it's hardly Siren's fault that just a week previously I'd been given one of the greatest sardine dishes of my life, although you might expect a dedicated seafood restaurant in a 5 star hotel in central London to take at least as much care over their product as a £39 tasting menu in the Calder Valley. The flavours were nice enough - the toasted hazelnuts made a great foil for the oily fish, and I enjoyed the faintly pickled, julienned veg - but there were so many tiny bones that they fair shredded my tonsils, which just seems sloppy to me.


The way Siren present their fish options tableside is presumably a nod to steakhouses that do the same with their different cuts of beef. I've never really been very comfortable with the practice - it seems wasteful to parade the same bits of slowly-expiring meat around the shop floor all day, and I don't really know how you're supposed to make any kind of judgement on what a steak will taste like based on looks alone anyway. It feels even more disconcerting when applied to an arrangement of sad, floppy, cloudy-eyed fish, their ice bed melting into a foetid puddle, especially alongside the cheerfully-announced news that 1/3 of the species on offer - slipsole, and weaver - had "already sold out". Here's a tip - if a fish is sold out take it off the bloody platter - we'd have been none the wiser if they hadn't been waved under our noses like we were unsuccessful gameshow contestants.

The next bit of weirdness was in the portion sizes. I don't know if you can tell from the photo - I should have probably tried a bit harder to get a better angle, sorry - but from what I remember the plaice (2nd left) the megrim sole (3rd left) and John Dory (4th left) all looked very similar sizes on the tray. But while Siren decided to serve the plaice and sole whole, the John Dory had been divided into two pretty miserly steaks. And they gave no indication that was going to happen when we ordered.


In the end, bizarrely, the John Dory was the nicest of the fish - a great, firm texture like this fish often has, with a fantastic salty, spicy skin laced with plenty of chilli. Just, you know, look at the size of it.


Plaice was also perfectly edible, and just as well as there was plenty of it, falling off the edge of the plate and drowning in butter and capers.


Now I have to be careful throwing around words like 'overcooked', as Google tells me that megrim sole does have a softer flesh than dover sole. Perhaps this texture was entirely deliberate. But if megrim even at its best has all the form of wet tissue paper then I'd suggest they probably shouldn't be serving it at all, as this really was fairly unpleasant.


Sides were inoffensive - tomato salad could have done with more salt and there was something unsatisfyingly "soily" about the "crispy potatoes", Perhaps they'd left the skins on, I didn't look closely enough. I'm afraid by this stage I'd run out of steam a bit.


To be fair, desserts were pretty good. My raspberry choux bun was a damn sight better than a version I'd been served at Le Gavroche a few months back, and even nicer drowned in all the chocolate sauce they gave me in one go. Yes, I am a child.


Brownie was decent, too, with a nice soft ice cream and plenty of salted caramel. This is me finding nice things to say after six paragraphs of whingeing, although I'm not sure it's really going to make up for it, is it?


No, overall I found more to complain about at Siren than I liked. In this price range its competition are seafood restaurant stars like J Sheekey's, or Bentleys, where the portion sizes are sensible, sole is offered off as well as on the bone, and the menu is bulked out by genuinely exciting shellfish selections. At Siren there were no langousine, no clams, no whelks, crab (except in a risotto), razors or crayfish, no seafood platters at all, just a fairly standard offering of dayboat fish, not always cooked very well. Perhaps at half the price and set outside of a Leading Hotel of the World I could have forgiven some of the issues, but certainly not all of them. Siren, from the menu to the service, feels like a neighbourhood restaurant that's somehow found itself trapped inside a luxury hotel.


I've failed at offering the bad news in between the good news, I know. This is almost certainly the reason I could never be a manager. But all I can do, in the end, is point out that there are better ways of spending this amount of money (about £140/head) on seafood, and go and find something else to moan about. So I'll do just that. There are, after all, plenty more fish in the sea.

5/10

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