Bar du Musee

Situated on Nelson Road, the Bar du Musee is a more-or-less happy marriage of the traditional and the modern. After a recent expansion when Greenwich Inc. took over, it’s brighter and more modern than the intimate little bar of yore, but not necessarily a bad thing for all that. The previous owner – a local ‘character’ – gave it a curious, French atmosphere and there is much of that feel remaining. At the front, in the bar area itself, the bare brick walls, low lighting and louche furnishings give it a decadent style, and the little iron spiral staircase leading to the basement invites further exploration. Ideal for a chilly winter evening, the French air about the place seducing you into ordering just one more bottle of red wine…

For a classic British summer’s day, however, the larger area – still brick walled, but with a giant glass conservatory roof, is bright and airy on the wettest, greyest afternoon. With trendily mis-matched furniture and covered in paintings – from salvaged oils to local prints, the conservatory has a lived-in feel, added to by a odd mix of continental tin adverts and strange antique-y objets d’art. Outside, on the terrace, there are too many hardwood chairs and tables and the obligatory parasols, with a minimalist garden border of box and other greenery presided over by a high fence, which my O’level geographic skills lead me to surmise masks the railway line behind.

The dishes are modern and appetising, and generally taste ok. It’s hardly Michelin-star quality – but at least doesn’t pretend to be – this is a bar that serves food, not a gourmet experience. This is middle-of-the-road cuisine with a small range of pleasant dishes. There’s always a vegetarian option or two and the wine list, though hardly connoisseur-level, isn’t terrible. The brunch is good fun – light and tasty, too, though I have never noticed the menu change. Being a coffee snob, I was disappointed when my “Americano” turned out to be exactly the same as my friend’s “white filter coffee” without the milk. Britain has much to learn about this hallowed beverage.*

George of Greenwich, the deli next door, which sold outrageously expensive luxury food items to god-knows-who has gradually declined over the past year to virtually nothing. Every time I went in there there seemed to be fewer items on the shelves and more bar seating – connecting through to Bar du Musee at the back. Frankly, to call it a deli now would be a joke. It’s just an extension of the restaurant which now seems to be practising the law of diminishing returns – the larger it gets, the less personable. I watch with interest, as the Antiques shop in between, the self-consciously cute “Walpoles” is subsumed into the giant mass of eaterie.

Service at the Bar du Musee is generally pleasant – though can be a bit hap-hazard, especially at weekends when the place is heaving.

It should be noted that Bar du Musee, like all Greenwich Inc eateries, has a bizarre – and controversial – policy on service charges. As with many places they not only include a service charge – but also leave the credit card total empty so you can add a gratuity. That’s bad enough – but get this. Do not assume that any service charge you may add to your bill will actually go to your waiter. It goes into the coffers of Greenwich Inc who use it (so they say) to fund a reward system for staff.

Now I don’t know about anyone else but I like to reward staff who have served ME – not fund someone else’s incentive system. I don’t care if my waiter turned up on time that day or helped to clean the floors after hours. That’s up to Greenwich Inc – not me – to encourage. I want to tip the service I received. And I can’t be sure that it actually ever goes to the staff at all even if they are doing the extra chores that Greenwich Inc require. I have talked to MANY (and I mean many) disgruntled staff in various of Greenwich Inc’s places who tell me they never see it. Take my advice – cross out the service charge – adding a note on your credit card bill as to why, if you like – and leave a cash tip for people who rely on gratuities to make up meagre wages.

* Try for everything you’ll ever want to know about coffee – they know what they’re talking about – and are almost local – being based just across the river in Docklands. They do a splendid variety of exceptional hand-roasted coffees ethically produced without making a big deal about it. Their mail-order service is excellent.

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