|High Road House Robbery?|
Maybe, but Joanna Biddolph can't wait to go back
“I’ve just had brunch at High Road House and it was fantastic! It’s so New York! I’ve booked a table for tonight – hope you don’t mind. It’s for 6.30 and they want the table back at 8.15. Hope that’s ok. It’s a fabulous menu!” That’s the sort of message I like to hear on my mobile and I was thrilled to have the excuse I’d been waiting for – to try Chiswick’s latest, newest celebrity (if you believe the hype) hot spot.
Anyone who has walked past – and most of us have, at least to give it a quick once over – will know how buzzy – and busy – it is. Outside tables – protected from the elements by an awning, and from the passing public by a boarded enclosure – have done much to advertise its arrival, making it look enticingly tempting. Foubert’s? Can you remember those lazy moments sipping coffee or slurping ice cream, watching our local world walk by? Now that world keeps a watch on who’s there (it’s me and you, as far as I could see); instead of trundling past, cabs draw up, dropping off those already signed up as members or guests staying in the hotel. This new venture has, without any effort, turned our tables.
The atmosphere is almost faultless, exactly capturing the best of a good French brasserie while bringing it up to date. The worst aspect of eating out in France – nearby smokers, with smoking allowed throughout – was annoyingly authentic.
The table was tiny – maximum attention to cramming us in as sources of revenue, minimum attention to comfort I thought, wryly – and we struggled to reach the butter for the excellent bread – a chewy dough with a rich farmhouse crust, both full of flavour – without knocking over a glass or nudging our wine over the edge of the table. Chairs outside were slippery metal and it was hard to sit comfortably, leaning forward or relaxing. The traffic was – well, you know what it is like; if we aren’t eating out or in the gym we’re driving so it is a noisy, disruptive fact of life on the High Road. We live with it.
Glimpses of food arriving at tables around us were reassuring; presentation was good; portions seemed large; plates taken back were empty. Annie ordered a glass of champagne, a treat after a day’s work. I went straight into wine and a carafe arrived swiftly and was delicious – a full bodied rioja, though we could have chosen French or Italian. The rest of the wine list – by the glass, half litre carafe or bottle – was long, expansive and allowed for all budgets and tastes.
It’s an all day menu. Whenever you fancy a little something – houmous and flatbread, sardines on toast, goose liver parfait – or a blow out – steak and chips, burger, a casserole – or something in between, it’s on offer. Crispy squid or quails’ eggs, risotto or fish soup, lobster or mutton or chicken or … it’s the sort of menu I find really hard to manage. With so much choice, I can never decide whether to stick to a theme or eat all over the place. I yearned to be transported to an earlier era with someone else choosing for me.
It was not someone in the kitchen’s day.
I’m a sucker for moules mariniere but at least two thirds of the starter portion – served in a lidded pot, just as in France – were closed, inedible, a waste of money. I sent them back, with huge apologies on both sides as I so wanted the experience to be as wonderful as rumoured. I was assured that the replacement portion would be picked over by the chef (a full portion arrived; a few shut tight sneaked in but the rest were plump, delicious and I souped up as much of the winey, creamy, parsleyed broth as I could before branding myself a glutton).
Annie chose anchovies, checking first that they were silver – bocorones in Spain; three times she was assured they were. A swirl of anchovies arrived, prettily arranged with leaves of flat leaf parsley, three slices of toast and a generous pat of butter. They were brown – admittedly not from a tin bought in a supermarket, but not silver. “We don’t make any money on the anchovies. They are incredibly expensive,” we were told later. No doubt they were but staff need to know what they are serving before answering customers’ questions, inaccurately raising expectations.
Surely we would have better luck with the main course?
“Delicious,” Annie said of her steak tartar (which requires no cooking). The accompanying salad was “average”. I went for the ravioli with asparagus and chanterelles. Ravioli? There was nothing stuffed about the three small slices of lasagne that lay folded amongst three asparagus tips, about 10 batons of peeled asparagus stem and three of the thinnest, smallest slivers – bigger than shavings but I couldn’t call them slices – of chanterelles. The sauce was richly creamy, mushroomy and completely dreamy but … it was cold. Ok, it was just warm – but the menu did not say it would be served tiède; it should have been piping hot.
The manager was supremely apologetic saying that hardly anything ever goes wrong but when it does, it is always at one table where everything goes wrong. He offered us free puddings (we declined); he did not charge us for the starters. The bill came to £54, including the tip.
Will I go back? Of course! Annie had praised the eggs benedict (“the best I’ve ever eaten”) at brunch that morning; there was a lot else on the menu I’d like to try; I find it hard to say no to eating out in a great atmosphere and I love – absolutely love – that floor (though I realise that has nothing to do with the food). For a casual breakfast or brunch, or a lazy lunch, in exciting surroundings this is top of my list. But for dinner when what I want is pleasurable over-indulgence delivered with competence and reliability – no. Fabulous concept; fantastic atmosphere; faulty delivery – fight for a table.
September 20, 2006