Monday 5 July 2010

Redhook, Farringdon

Believe it or not, this is my first ever soft opening. Traditionally, through a combination of ignorance and sheer laziness, I was never the first person to hear about new restaurants, and was quite happy to leave that expensive and often painful job to those with thicker skins - and wallets - than my own. That usually meant Dos Hermanos, with their encyclopaedic knowledge of the restaurant trade and endless capacity for disappointment, got there first, which was fine by me. Good luck to 'em. They did it so we didn't have to.

But now, thanks mainly to the obsessive hive-mind of Twitter, new restaurants are flagged-up, scouted out and thoroughly deconstructed weeks before paying customers are allowed through the doors, meaning mere mortals like myself have a chance to slate a restaurant in its opening week. If that sounds unfair, then I refer you to this bit of text stamped in red at the top of the menu at Redhook - "You're one of the first in here and so it's 10% off your bill while we're still making a few mistakes. Please don't be too tough on us to start off with; unless we're really bad in which case, go mental." And what kind of food blogger would I be if I turned down an invitation like that?

The problems with Redhook - for they are many - began even before I'd sat down. A pleasant, if functional, standard Farringdon/Clerkenwell style bar area ends abruptly with a formal white-tablecloths-and-silver-cutlery dining space, with far too many impractically tiny tables squeezed in way too close to each other. Fortunately, as we were eating fairly early and the room remained empty for the duration of our mercifully brief meal, this wasn't too much of an issue, but I dread to think how many seafood platters would have met a messy end as diners attempted to extract themselves to visit the loo had it been at capacity.

I started with a Grey Goose martini (pretty good actually - at least the bar staff know what they're doing) and shared a "West London seafood platter" between the two of us. On the menu it's listed as £36 per person, but our waiter suggested we share it because "it's too big for one". So if the seafood platter is too big for one, why not either halve it in size or just list it as "£36 for two"? It's a menu conceit that I've seen in other seafood restaurants in London (namely Scott's) but I still find it bizarre.

Bits of it were OK. I liked the nice fresh rock oysters and the sweet Alaskan King Crab's leg. The lobster was nice and plump (ie. had not been overcooked) and the inclusion of razor clams and whelks at least shows a certain level of ambition, even if neither of these things were particularly pleasant to eat - they were under-seasoned or needed some sort of dressing. But is it asking too much to expect a large black waste pipe to be removed from a giant prawn in a plate of food costing (usually) £36? Or for a "citrus caviar" to taste of citrus? Or for any of it to be seasoned correctly, if at all? At least in Scott's, paying a similar price, you feel like you're getting your money's worth.

If the "surf" was disappointing, then the "turf" was a complete disaster. This poor, sad piece of meat had been slowly tortured to cooked-through, leathery grey. It had also been seasoned too early, so the surface of the flesh cracked and split like a dry mud bed. Had we the luxury of time we would have sent it back, but in the end settled for telling the (very apologetic) waiter, who took a couple of glasses of wine off the bill. As if the leathery steak wasn't bad enough, it was presented with a chunk of marrow bone which was - ironically - completely horribly red raw inside. I'm not sure if eating raw bone marrow is even safe - it's certainly not tasty - and so that was left too. Oh and the peppercorn sauce was thin and insipid. And the watercress wasn't seasoned or dressed at all. Yes, I think that's everything. Oh - the fries were OK.

Now, I know what you're going to say. "It's opening week! They're allowed to make mistakes." Well yes they are. But these were not niggles in service (which was pretty good actually) or simply timing or equipment issues. A steak so pallid and tough had clearly been nowhere near a proper hot charcoal grill, and so I casually enquired after the famous Josper that I had been told Redhook were using. "Oh it's not working properly, it's too hot". Too hot? Hmm. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps the kitchen needs further training on how to use the Josper. But to send out such a badly cooked steak casts doubt on whether they would have known how to cook a steak even if their grill was behaving itself, and anyone who considers "well done" and "medium rare" to be interchangeable instructions shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a kitchen.

Fighting off accusations over the years of unfairly panning restaurants in their opening week, the Dos Hermanos brothers have always responded that you can tell very early on whether a kitchen has the capacity to improve from a solid if flawed start, or whether the problems are so entrenched that things are never going to be worth paying full price for. Yes their charcoal grill may have been "broken" but even so, only the most rudderless of kitchens would have happily sent out a piece of meat so appalling. So it is not the cramped seating or the tiny tables or the relatively high prices that makes Redhook a bad steak restaurant. It is simply the fact that they can't cook steak.


Redhook Seafood & Steaks on Urbanspoon


Ollie said...

Top post, Chris. As you say, pointing out their cleaning the prawn isn't pedantry, it shows them up pretty fundamentally. And the steak looks abysmal.

Gregory said...

While I am a little bit sympathetic to new restaurants in soft opening or first week phase, you simply shouldn't hold back the constructive criticism on service or food. Afterall they need to use this to get up to speed as this is what soft openings are for.

One of the signs of a great restaurant is how they recover from their mistakes. In the case their excuse for the broken grill brings rise to a certain phrase containing workman and tools !

Great review nonetheless.

Joshua said...

That is a very sorry looking steak.

Still trying to work out how a grill for steaks can be too hot as well. I've turned to cooking really thick steaks so I can char the outside enough with overcooking the middle, if only I had something too hot to negate the need to do this.

Hollow Legs said...

Back to Hawksmoor it is, then...

Violet's Curd said...

Great post.

Glad to read this as I was considering a trip...based solely on the fact that I lived near Red Hook in NY for a while and I was intrigued upon the naming of the restaurant. Unless I missed a trick the only good (and by good I mean this stuff was amazing) food in Red Hook was the famous outlawed taco trucks. Not a steak and seafood restaurant in sight, from memory.

Perhaps they will improve, but as Gregory said workmen and tools does spring to mind.

Emyr Thomas, Bon Vivant said...

I fully agree that we should give new openings some leeway, but a steakhouse cooking a poor piece of meat badly is just unforgivable!

PDH said...

Gutting really ignoring the digestive tract issues and the raw marrow, it's still sad to see a steak so poor coming out while the paint is still drying. I think you hit the nail on the head with your Rudderless comment. I wonder how they'll cope with the Josper if they can't cook with a normal grill? Someone should be on the pass breaking the knuckles of anyone attempting to send such shit.

Anonymous said...

Those chips do look really good...

Gav said...

You saved me a few quid as I was going to go visit as it's down the road.

Steak looks awful - will be sticking to Hawksmoor

An American in London said...

I visited Red Hook last week, also, and while the T-bone steak I ordered was similarly over-cooked, I enjoyed all the seafood that our table ordered, especially the Madagascar prawns. My conclusion after that meal was that I'd be glad to return to Redhook for the seafood but would skip the steaks next time around.

The grilled prawns for 26 quid really were very good - properly cleaned, not overcooked, large and sweet. Contrast with the Madagascar prawns at Barrafina, which are delicious but 7 quid per prawn).

Chris Pople said...

AAiL: Take your point on the prawns - had mine been properly cleaned it would have been pretty good value. It was HUGE. But that we both had overcooked steaks says a lot.

Jonathan said...

Dear oh dear. What a series of schoolboy mistakes. You've saved me a few quid as well. Although you had enjoyed it and given it a glowing review as I was looking forward to paying them a visit whilst I am working around the corner from it.

Anonymous said...

The easy part is buying a Josper. Then you have to learn to cook on it. We figure 6-8 weeks of full time training before anyone is ready to work the station on their own. This is an oven that constantly fluctuates in temp and is used to cook a product which varies hugely depending on time of year, part of animal, quality of feed etc. It really isn't easy and a good grill man is the most important person in a steakhouse.
You would be surprised how many kitchens, including some of the current top restaurants in London have unused Jospers because no one actually can work it.
Lets face it, there would be a few more of those famous Argentinean grills if anyone had the faintest idea how to work the fuckers.

Northern Snippet said...

Ugh prawns with drain left in abysmal.
Grill too hot???That makes achieving a rare or m/r steak much easier.Its the not hot enough grills which are the problem.Anyway if they had issues with it why didn't they just use a good old pan?

Miss Eva Lai said...

Well Chris, I don’t think all that many people actually have thicker wallets than yours! And your attitude towards new restaurants seems to be like my attitude towards watching movies, as I’ve been so lazy about watching movies for many years, I still haven’t watched a lot of the massively famous movies and tend to watch some 4 years late. I suppose I reckon, why spend 13 quid on a movie when I could spend 3 quid on exactly the same thing and enjoy it just as much, even better cos by then my friends will have told me what to avoid and what to go for.
And if you have thick skin then my skin is so thick that my face is just a tortoise shell. But I’m comfortable with it!!!!!!!! Lol lol lol Can’t even smash it with a tool.

Miss Eva Lai said...

I find the 'we're going to make mistakes' agenda strange. Surely a restaurant is one that does not make mistakes by virtue of being a restaurant, that's the idea. Surely they should make all the plans for serving the food fast enough, employing chefs that cook competently enough, employing enough waiting staff- not too few and not too many, owning enough equipment, making sure all the cleaning will be done, doing all the maintenance of facilities so that the light doesn't fall down or something, ensuring there will be enough spoons- otherwise what is a restaurant??
Hmmmmm- we wish the restaurants wouldn't make mistakes! Actually have you ever felt so ambiguous/ ambivalent about a dish that you don't even know if you like it or dislike it, perhaps you like it and dislike it at the same time? Then is it a mistake?
To get a bit more serious about what's humorous, one can say - yay go mental, but in reality as the whole of Great Britain is so massively concerned with political correctness, you would not even manage to go half-mental even in the most extreme of narrowly-defined circumstances (fuck-ups), let alone go fully mental. Unless it's your own home. Where is the bloody freedom to go mental? One dude once upon a time even tried to reprimand me for complaining about his absolutely outrageous service (not hospitality, something else). I wasn't going to have any of it!

mpepperhouse said...

I went to this restaurant and I have to say it was awful.

The reasons I did not like this restaurant:

1. Service was a bit slow. We had to ask for our drink when they did not turn up.
2. My starter was over cooked. I had scallops and can't help but think they had been frozen. This plate of food really was horrible.
3. My main was undercooked. I ordered medium rare steak and it arrived rare. I asked for it to be put back on the grill for a few more minute. The waiter told me the chef cooked it the french medium rare. How am I meant to know that especially in an American restaurant. Perhaps this excuse could be used in a FRENCH RESTAURANT.
4. Overpriced for what you get.
5. The restaurant was fairly empty yet we were placed in a booth barely 5 feet from the bar. Drinkers at the bar were practically on our table and it was not a relaxing meal in the slightest. The booths by the bar should really be for drinkers.
6. One of our sides was very over seasoned.

The one star that I do give it is for the staff that were generally polite. And once the steak was cooked as ordered tasted not too bad.

The only reason we went to this restaurant was because we had a voucher for £50 pounds. The bill in the end was £70 and I have to say if we had to pay the full amount without a voucher I would have been extremely annoyed.

Anonymous said...

Whilst opening week mistakes can happen, what can be said about our visit in August was only embarrassing for the Redhook.

The 2 pasta dishes we ordered were served so salty we just couldn't eat them. When we returned them to the kitchen the waiter said Chef had then tasted the stock the pasta had been cooked in and it was over-salted.

They did prepare 2 more better dishes, but I mean really???