Monday, 3 December 2007

The Brass Rail, Selfridges Food Hall

There is a theory often put forward by environmental campaigners that tackling road congestion by adding lanes or widening roads is counter-productive, because the volume of traffic actually increases in proportion to the space it is given. Having barely survived a weekend trip to a pedestrianised Oxford Street I can confirm the same is true of pavements and human traffic. I have never seen so many people squeezed onto one road, screaming back and forth in an uncontrolled riot of baby buggies and yellow Selfridges shopping bags.

My bright idea was to attempt lunch in the busiest part of the busiest shop on the busiest shopping street in the country, 3 weeks before Christmas. The Selfridges Food Hall can be crowded at the best of times, but on Saturday it resembled something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting as all of London appeared to have developed a simultaneous compulsion to sample English Stilton and gawp at the lobsters on the fish counter. The queues for all the food outlets were huge at around 1pm, so we decided to try a little bit of Christmas shopping and return when they might have died down. A very difficult hour later we returned gasping and broken to the food hall, having managed only the purchase of a jar of hand wash for our own bathroom in all that time. I don't know how anyone else was doing it, but I could not get comfortable enough to be a consumer in the midst of such chaos. I resolved to buy all my Christmas gifts from the internet, and if I missed the physical abuse of high-street shopping too much I could always punch myself repeatedly in the face with my free hand.

To add insult to very real injury, The Brass Rail turned out to be overpriced and rather mediocre. The salt beef was a little on the dry side but reasonably tasty, and the rye bread was nice and fresh, but the bagels (they spell them the American way here) were dry and £4.50 for half a salt beef bagel is extortionate when you consider a whole one from Brick Lane is about £2.50. Pickles again were OK but 50p each.

Not wishing to take any more chances, we headed for Claridges for dessert. This may seem a little extravagant but given my state of mind at that point I don't think I could have coped with anything less - medicinal purposes, you understand. The £15 "Dessert Bento Box" was a plate of four exquisite little preparations including rice pudding, hazelnut ice cream with some sort of pastry, chocolate and raspberry cake and multicoloured macaroons. We sipped on drinks and melted into the leather armchairs in a quiet corner of the most luxurious hotel in London, and eventually the hidous memory of Oxford Street faded away.

The Brass Rail 4/10
Claridges Bar 9/10


Annemarie said...

Oxford Street...Christmas...oh Chris, you're either very brave or very foolish. The dessert bento has me very intrigued, particularly those 3 lurid macaroon looking things perched on the top left. Surely those aren't colors derived from nature...

Chris Pople said...

Yes they are a bit lurid aren't they - I've seen them like this from Patisserie Valerie too though. It must be a French thing.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could suggest some really good salt beef, other than my own, natch.

However, Blooms on a good day sometimes does the trick. Unless of course you're with a food critic.

Chris Pople said...

I'm afraid Blooms is right down on my to-do list since that review in the Observer but never say never I suppose.

What is your opinion on the Brick Lane stuff by the way? I'm a bit of a regular.

Jeanne said...

I have to echo Annemarie - Oxford Street anywhere near Decemebr is too ghastly to contemplate. It just makes me lose my shopping appetite altogether and decide to lead an ascete's life surrounded by acres of nothing ;-) I can see that Claridges might be the perfect antidote, and the dessert bento looks fascinating. Sorry to year the Brass Rail was disappointing - why is it so hard to find proper Jewish deli food in this country?