Novotel Hotel, Greenwich High Road, SE10

I first ate here two or three years ago, but when I came to write about it, even a short while afterwards, discovered that I’d totally forgotten the experience. I hadn’t been particularly heavy on the alcohol, I just couldn’t remember it.

So I thought I’d better try it again. The second time, I worked out why I’d had such a blank about it.

The first thing to remember is that this is a restaurant attached to a hotel. It’s a middling, chain hotel and the restaurant, although bright and smart, can’t help but reflect that strange, impersonal, just-passing-through feel that kind of place attracts. The staff make every effort to counter this with almost stiflingly solicitous attention, but ultimately those high ceilings with their bright downlighters and the tasteful corporate furnishings, complete with little metal corner-covers on the walls to prevent chips in the plaster just feel a little soulless.

I’d say all the other customers on the night we went were staying at the hotel; most were single business(men – there was one woman) and a table that seemed to be people who’d be having a formal meeting the next day.

We were greeted, seated and given menus almost instantly, and from then on we enjoyed a veritable parade of waiting staff, including the occasional stalk-by from the manager, checking to see if we were okay. It became almost funny – we didn’t manage to take a single bite before being asked if the food was acceptable, and we were checked up on at least three times in each course. I’m not sure what they’d have done if we’d actually had anything real to complain about, but at least the spirit was willing.

So. The food. It’s perfectly acceptable. Just entirely unmemorable – even as I write this I have to really strain to recall what I had – and not cheap enough to justify its being so. The starters were small but well-enough put together. A Ceasar Salad was crisp and with plenty of Parmesan, though served in a bowl that I’d have called a factory-second if I didn’t know about the inexplicable fashion for weird-shaped crockery that’s happily beginning to wane these days. My fishcake was miniscule, but the salsa was tasty and it went down fine.

After a few more check-ups that we were enjoying ourselves, seemingly by every single member of staff (though not by any chambermaids or maintenance men. Don’t they care about their customers?) the mains arrived. Again – small, but generally okay.

My sea bream was a bit dry, as was the asparagus it was on, and the braised lettuce was just plain weird, but it was all made up for by the butternut squash raviolli that came with it. My companion’s beef pie was very enjoyable indeed – meltingly long-cooked meat and crusty pastry – even if it should have been served with a magnifying glass. The chips were very good. Everything arrived in peculiarly-shaped crocks.

All in all, this was an okay meal. It was all edible and some of it was very pleasant. But even as I write this, the memory is fading, and I’m not sure the forty-quid price tag just for the food was really justified. I can’t say I’ll be going back for a third attempt.

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