The Water Margin

Entertainment Avenue, The O2

Last night we fancied seeing a film – we didn’t really care which one, we were just in movie mood. It was in between screening times at the Picturehouse, so we walked over to The O2 to see whatever was going to start next (BTW – isn’t it fantastic – having no fewer than THREE cinemas within walking distance? My first choice is always the Picturehouse but there’s nothing like alternative options, is there…)

We came out of Kung Fu Panda (well, I did say we’d agreed to see whatever was starting next…) really quite peckish and wandered up and down that enormous row of eateries trying to decide which to try next.

With so many places as yet still untested we settled on The Water Margin for the entirely spurious reason that it was about as authentically Chinese as the film we’d just seen.

It was, depending on who you spoke to afterwards, an average to below-average experience. As might be expected from somewhere at an arena venue, however smart it may look (it’s that corporate-modern look with vague nods to the style of food represented that most places at the O2 have), it is a truly good restaurant that can transcend mere mass-catering. And this is not a good restaurant.

We couldn’t decide between the downstairs – the closest you get to a la carte – and upstairs, which is a buffet affair; we chose the ground floor merely because there were a couple of noisy parties at the buffet. Looking back, perhaps they knew something we didn’t.

Seated at Wagamama-style benches (which weren’t particularly full – I don’t think there was a show on, though there was a queue, as always, for Nandos…) we were handed a plastic-coated sheet with photos of the set meals on offer. All pretty standard stuff – but it looked tasty enough from the pics.

My all-purpose curry was alright. Clearly made some time earlier in huge vats and doled out when required, it tasted ok – nothing special and the veg had been overcooked, but definitely edible. The rice was average – but at least made within the last hour or so, I’d guess.

My companion’s pork, however, was definitely below par. Almost entirely consisting of fat, it had, I am sure, been fried sometime that day – but I’d suspect a good few hours ago and kept warm somewhere. What meat there was (a tiny corner in each slice) was chewy and tasteless; the fat itself flabby and tasteless, the rest of the meal was tired and tasteless.

Both dishes represented assembly-line catering at its nadir. Everything cooked long before it’s needed, kept warm for hours and put together by numbers as required. The ingredients are cheap and ill-prepared, the service – well – I guess they’re not paid that much, and it shows. Granted it’s not at all expensive, especially as the inflated prices at the Dome go, but I’d argue that even at those rates it’s not good value for money.

I guess most people who go to the Water Margin are there for the show and are so excited about what they’re just about to see that they don’t notice what they’re shoving down their gullets. And they never have to cater for a returning clientele, so I don’t see this getting any better.

I note from the website that what The Water Margin really prides itself on is the buffet, so I may have to go back once more to check that out. But I won’t be going back to the downstairs area for a looooong time…

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