|Sam's Ticks All the Boxes for Winter Comfort|
Good food and relaxed atmosphere impresses our reviewer
Call me old-fashioned but I still prefer a restaurant where I can get a decent meal and not something that looks like a wispy work of art on a plate. I don't want serious or pompous food when I go out. I just want to relax in a friendly and comfortable setting, eat food that's fresh and nicely cooked, served by a friendly and efficient person - oh and the music mustn't drown out the conversation.
I'm happy to say all those needs were met on my last visit to Sam's Brasserie. It was one of those evenings when the autumn chill had set in and I knew I wanted comfort food. I arrived a bit earlier than my husband, who was my dinner date, and as I went in through the door I noticed there were lots of people in suits having drinks and cocktails round the bar.
There was a general hum of conversation and the music was on, and at first my heart sank as I thought it might be noisy while we were having our meal. However, the music stayed at just the right level throughout and there was plenty of privacy at our table.
The newly-refurbished bar is now a separate entity and has its own New York-style atmosphere, which doesn't impinge on the restaurant diners.
Before long a glass of Kir Royale had been suggested and as I sipped I remembered other visits to Sam's throughout the years - birthday lunches with friends, weekend brunches with the kids, a memorable Sunday lunch once with a friend who has sadly passed away. It made me realise how important it is to have a local restaurant that is part of the fabric of a place and not just a chain that opens and closes on a whim. By now my dinner date had arrived and before he even looked at the menu I knew he was going to have steak. It had been a long day at the office.
Before that there were starters to contemplate. The menu had a selection of eleven items, from Maldon Rock Oysters to a new entry - New England Clam, Salt Cod and Slab Bacon Chowder. Mussels with Black Bean Sauce, Deep-Fried Squid with Anchovy Mayonnaise, and Home Cured Tea-smoked Salmon were on the seafood side, while Chicken Liver pate, and Butcher's Board to Share were also available. In the end I chose the Roast Beetroot and Goat's Curd Salad with aged Balsamic Cream. It was delicious. The goat's curd was one of the freshest I have tasted and there was just enough balsamic cream not to overpower the flavours. My other half chose the Bone Marrow - a new addition to the menu, and it was served with Poilane toast, and a Parsley and Shallot salad. His verdict: " very nice". All the starters range from £6.75 to £ 13.50, but the latter is the Butchers' Board which is a sharing dish, so it works out about the same. The Rock Oysters are £2 each and served with shallot vinegar. A Little Gem and Citrus Salad or Mackerel Tartare were also available.
Moving on to the mains, I was pleased to see one of my favourite dishes on the menu - Roast Cod with Cannelloni Bean and Chorizo Stew, served with Aioli (£15.50). I've had this dish at Sam's before and I liked it so much I tried to replicate it at home. However, I can never achieve quite the same depth of flavour and creaminess with the bean stew. I was torn between this and a new addition, Goan Fish and Prawn Curry ( £14.50) which is a recipe from Rick Stein. I hoped the hubby might try it and give me a sample but no, as I said, he was having steak. This was to be an Aged Rib-Eye,served with chips and a choice of Bearnaise or Peppercorn Sauce (£20.50).
The menu leans on the winter-warmer side, with Steak and Kidney Pudding , Roast Rump of Salt Marsh Lamb, and Grilled Pork Chop served with Sauteed Apple and Black Pudding. Apart from my cod dish, there was another seafood offering of Whole Cornish Plaice, served with new potatoes and caper butter. The chicken dish was Crispy Chicken Breast served with Creamed Corn and Chanterelles. There was one vegetarian offering of Butternut Squash, Tomato, Spinach and Parmesan Lasagne.
That menu ticks nearly all the boxes although I noticed that on the Set Lunch and Early Bird menu they offered a Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup, a Rare Roast Beef Salad and Confit Duck Hash with Fried Egg. I think another soup would be an addition to the Starters menu, though I presume the staff would not mind if something caught your eye from elsewhere. I nearly always have seafood when I go out and I hope Sam keeps lots of fish dishes on the menu.
I thought about having Mash or Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes ( £ 3.50 for sides) but was persuaded against it by the waitress on the grounds that the Cod was very filling. She suggested a side of French Beans and Shallots and we also chose spinach. Also, I knew I could pinch some chips.
My main course was great, the fish was really fresh, and the chorizo gave the bean stew a rich depth of flavour. The green beans were crunchy,and I also felt virtuous in having such a healthy meal. The steak was requested medium and that was what he got. Thumbs up for the Bearnaise sauce and the chips.
I did steal a few.
I had a glass of sauvignon blanc ( £6.50 ) and we shared a bottle of sparkling water .For those who would prefer an evening with more wine, the prices start at £16 for a bottle of red or white. You can go up to £42 for a Pouilly Fume or £52 for a 1997 Rioja 'Gran Reserva 904 '.
Glasses of wine start at £4.50 and there are some half-bottles available as well as dessert wines and port. Interestingly the wine list includes a red and a white from Rick Stein, who is now a director at the Tower Lodge estate in the Hunter Valley in Australia.
His wines are a Spanish White Verdejo/Viura 2010 and a Spanish red Temprillo/Shiraz - both priced at a modest £ 21.
Looking around I could see there was a wide variety of diners. On one table a group of women friends were having a good time, and I also noted there were family groups and couples. It was quite busy for a week night. When I looked into the open-plan kitchen I saw the staff moving around quietly and getting on with the cooking- some of them were even smiling. No histrionics here.
Since I had by now eaten several of my 'five a day' I thought it was entirely reasonable that I should opt for the Banana Split for dessert. Bananas are a bit everyday but this was coming baked, with salted caramel ice-cream which is tres a la mode in restaurants around W4. It was very nice but of course I couldn't quite finish it.
My dinner-date was very unobliging and ordered the same - I wanted him to have something different so I could taste it but he was very obstinate. I might not take him out again. Like all restaurants the menu can change from day to day but there was on this occasion a warm chocolate fondant, a cheesecake and Sam's treats( £3.50). A selection of British Cheeses are available from £8.50.
Cocktails are very popular at the moment and there is a new list of exotic drinks added to the old favourites. You can pretend you are in the Southern States at the Kentucky Derby with a Basil Julep ( £8.50), which is a twist on the traditional mint julep, or go for a Manhattan, a White Lady, or Singapore Sling. A new bar menu of nibbles ranging from chorizo, to olives, to more substantial fare such as goujons, koftas, or burgers will help line the stomach. And thinking ahead, the Christmas menu for £33.50 will have turkey on offer as well as vegetarian, venison and fish options.
A three-course meal with a bottle of wine , water, and service charge probably won't give you much change from £100 at Sam's Brasserie, which is not unduly expensive for a good London restaurant.
If the Age of Austerity has hit your household, by all means go for lunch or the Early Bird (between 6.30p.m. and 7.30 p.m.) where you can get two courses for £14.50 or three for £17.50.
November 3, 2011