|Quantus Takes Flight in Chiswick|
Food blogger Jackie Lee visits new restaurant on Devonshire Road
The plight of the food blogger as restaurant critic is a strange one. I very rarely confess to the venue I’m reviewing that I am a food blogger (although, at times, the picture-taking does somewhat give it away), and it’s because reviews should be authentic; you should receive no more special treatment, should not put any more pressure on the staff than is already on them. That’s how I like to operate, how most critics do, I imagine, and I will never expect anything more, because I am nobody, really. Just another food blogger eating my way around town.
At the end of the road where my day job is situated there had been some buzz over the past few weeks about a new restaurant opening. The word was that it was French/Italian, they had a really good chef in, there were some problems which had delayed the opening, but it was finally going to open its doors on Tuesday night. Great, I thought, I’ll pop along after work and try it out. Opening night, even better, and then I called Momma Lee & Brother to join me.
Now there were two main problems with deciding to go on this night. The first was that within about fifteen minutes of us being seated, Brother & Momma Lee had told the maitre’d that I was writing an independent review for my food blog (admittedly I was taking photos, so the maitre’d did ask, but I was not willing to volunteer that information); the second was that, thinking about it now, we really should not have gone there opening night. It’s not fair to a new restaurant to a) expect them to be perfect when they’ve literally just opened and b) tell them that you’re writing a review. Can you imagine the pressure that this would put on said restaurant? Nervous enough already that this is the first opening to the general public, and then be told that somebody is there to judge you as well.
So, having said all that, what about Quantus? It’s a small venue, maybe capable of seating 40-50, with a largely white-walled interior. The large light fixtures hanging from the ceiling evoke memories of the middle-east, maybe Morocco, which seems strange in a restaurant claiming to be French/Italian. There is, however, quite a nice space towards the back of the restaurant which I imagine would do well for a private party. The biggest problem in this small venue, however, is the fact that there is only one toilet which is situated adjacent to the kitchen door. Imagine, if you will, this scenario: the waiter comes out of the kitchen door at the same time the punter comes out of the toilet. Two possible conclusions: either the kitchen door blocks the punter’s exit, trapping him in the toilet briefly (which is what happened to Brother at one point), or the bathroom door smacks into the waiter, sending hot soup and food flying everywhere (thankfully we did not witness this during the course of the night, but it’s only a matter of time). Clearly this is a poor design. The toilet itself is rather nice, but it is the ONLY toilet in the entire venue, and seeing the waitress/bartender going in and out with toilet cleaner during the course of the meal is not the most appetizing scene to witness.
We were the first customers of the night, and as such were greeted with open arms, extraordinarily friendly service, and a passionate owner who gave us a welcome glass of complimentary Kir Royale, told us a joke halfway through our mains, and then gave us a glass of red wine to try (excellent wine – apparently their wine supplier is one of 140 of the top wine suppliers in the world), and a glass of sweet wine with dessert (which was Bosnian and reminded me of dates).
The staff appears to consist of the co-owners, a waitress, a bartender and the chef. That’s not a whole lot of staff, and as a result when the restaurant did begin to fill up they were definitely struggling. It took forty minutes for our desserts to arrive, which was partly because the chef was trying to make everybody else’s main courses by this point, and partly because word had got back to the kitchen that there was “a reviewer” in the house and he was panicking (strange how I was elevated from “food blogger” to “food critic” over the course of two hours).
I started with the Sichuan Tuna, served with a mango, lime & fresh coriander salad, and a wasabi dressing; Momma Lee & Brother both went for the Pork Belly served with chorizo, cauliflower puree and apple chutney. Now, admittedly, I did not choose the best starter on the menu, but I chose it because I was somewhat confused over how this would fit in to the rest of the menu. And it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the tuna was cooked beautifully, the presentation was lovely, the flavours, too. But it doesn’t work on this menu. Even the pork belly was lacking something, and I’m not normally one to poo-poo the pork belly. The chorizo was too strong for the other flavours on the plate & there was no variation of texture in the dish: it was mushy cauliflower, mushy apple, soft pork belly and soft chorizo.
Mains then, and I went for the Tender Lamb Casserole, served with crushed potatoes, peperonatta and rosemary sauce; Momma Lee & Brother both went for the Argentinian Rib Eye, served with Chimichurri, hand-cut chips, watercress & bearnaise sauce. The lamb dish was flavoured very well, and the potatoes were lovely, but (despite the fact that it had been slow-cooked for 14 hours) the lamb itself was dry. It should’ve been falling apart in my mouth, but instead it was just a bit of a mouthful. I asked them what cuts of meat they had used, and they told me it was a combination of shoulder and leg cuts. Honestly, I think this dish would’ve been better with a lamb shank, not the least because it would keep the moisture a little better and withstand the long-cooking time, but also because, honestly, I was still hungry. I had two small-ish pieces of lamb atop a mountain of giant potatoes, that just didn’t quite hit the spot.
The rib-eye, on the other hand, whilst slightly over-cooked on one half (which was bizarre), was very good, and the fries were excellent. I think they must’ve been twice-fried, but they were wonderful. And the bearnaise sauce was exquisite. The whole dish was topped, however, with a mountain of watercress, which seemed to be unnecessarily taking garnishing to new extremes.
For dessert, as I felt I had ordered somewhat poorly for the previous two courses, I asked the chef to bring me his recommendation, which turned out to be the Lemon Curd with a berry, honey & mint salad and pistachio crumble; and Brother had the Chocolate Fondant Cake with vanilla ice-cream and Malbec syrup. When I saw the Lemon Curd on the menu I was unimpressed; when the chef recommended it I was confused; when I tried it I was a combination of the both, because frankly it’s a large bowl of lemon curd, topped with some berries and crunchy pistachios. That, to me, is not really a dessert. That’s like giving somebody a bowl of custard and saying ‘eat up, chaps’. It was such a bizarre dessert, one that I feel really should not be on that menu (or any menu), as it only serves to befuddle further. The pistachio crumble topping was, admittedly, very tasty, but ruined by the fact that it was sitting atop a puddle of lemon curd. The chocolate fondant cake fared far better, even if it was a little on the cold/dry side.
However, despite all of the above, Quantus does have promise. They could be great… if they simplified their menu. To be frank, the reason it’s confused is because they are confused. They have a Bosnian co-owner who grew up in Italy, Germany & the UK; an Argentinian chef; and a French/Argentinian/Asian/British-influenced menu. That’s a lot going on for one restaurant. I think part of the problem is that they have decided to open opposite one of the best restaurants in Chiswick (in my opinion, the best), La Trompette, a Michelin-starred restaurant, and so are trying to compete with the established French cuisine by putting their own spin on it. It doesn’t work. It is so muddled that the very good stand-alone dishes and impeccable service are completely lost in the lack of cohesion. At this point I’d also like to mention the music choices, which were kinda random and terrible (Take That followed by Justin Timberlake followed by Gwen Stefani; um…) something which, again, could’ve been made better by a firmer decision about what they were trying to do.
The best dish of the night was the Argentinian rib-eye and that’s certainly no surprise, this is what your chef does well: let him do it. Clearly they need to hire a dessert chef, because desserts are really not his thing. There were only three options for dessert on the menu, plus a cheese course, next to the six or so for the starters and mains.
And then there’s the price. At about £30/head (not including wine) this is not cheap food, and even worse I still felt a little hungry and unsatisfied. The wine is excellent, but that’s certainly not cheap either. The prices reflect what Quantus is trying to be, but right now they’re not quite reaching their goal… which is understandable, they’re still trying to find their feet, but they need to simplify and make a firm decision about what exactly they are.
I’m not writing them off, I will go back, but I think perhaps I’ll leave it about six months or so, give them a chance to figure out where they stand in Chiswick and what they are capable of, because there is potential there: it just needs a little work. But then isn’t that the joy of discovering a brand new restaurant? Watching them develop? I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what the next few months brings them.
You can read more of Jackie's views on food and restaurants on her blog - I Am A Feeder
November 18, 2010