Archive for the ‘Eating Out’ Category

16″ West

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

A couple of months ago the Sammy Ofer Wing of the NMM was opened to much hoo-ha. I’ve refrained thus far from making any serious judgement on the museum itself as I just can’t believe ‘that’s it’ – empty space, ‘virtual’ objects and a single gallery of big-hitters dominated by a giant white block. The excellent Ocean Liners exhibition has been turned into a massive gift store, the whole of the former front closed off – there just has to be more than this. The boast in the first cabinet of the greatest-hits room claims over 2 million objects. When I was there the mutter around me was definitely of the ‘well let’s see some of them then…’ variety.

And my postbag’s reflected it. Pretty much everyone thinks the actual building is really good, but WestCliffGB sums it up when he says “beautiful, but not really, really working.’ As a museum it’s a great cafe, restaurant and gift shop.

But now I see there is a new gallery –  Traders: the East India Company and Asia – which I haven’t got to yet (I think it’s opened, but can’t be sure) so I have renewed hope that we’ll start to see some actual objects rather than massive open spaces with nowt going on in them.

So it’s about time I mentioned what is working – and working really well. The cafe downstairs is excellent, with friendly staff, good coffee and nice snacks. I’ve not dared have any of the fabulous-looking cakes, but the juices especially are fresh, tasty and actually pretty cheap compared with other places.

It gets a bit nutty in the afternoons – unsurprising, really, given the proximity to the park – and my only complaint is not actually with the cafe itself but with whatever idiot thought of creating a groovy water feature at kiddie-height that is forbidden to kiddies.

Don’t these people know that children are drawn to water like looters to Footlocker, especially toddle-deep moving water? There are now big stripy bands across the top and bottom to prevent paddling (as though that’s going to stop it…) which I’m sure the architect didn’t have in mind for the minimalist look of the thing, but I place any blame firmly at said architect’s feet.

Oh, bloody hell, I’ve gone off on one again and I haven’t even mentioned the subject of today’s post yet. Central Greenwich’s secret restaurant, 16″ West. It’s upstairs from the cafe and I suspect it’s going to suffer from the basic problem that you have to know it’s there, which is a shame since it’s becoming one of my favourites.

I actually visited for lunch on their very first day, but I was keen to go in the evening too, to see what the difference would be, so it’s taken until now to get round to it.

It’s in one of those big glass rooms just above the entrance hall, which means that you have to walk up the slope from King William Walk. At night this feels slightly ‘naughty’, as though you’re getting to go somewhere you shouldn’t normally be, though if you’re hoping for a quick sneaky at the three and a half exhibits actually on view forget it; it’s a dead-end, I’ve tried. So have sundry gaggles of teenagers who, periodically, during the meal mooch past the benighted upper level, only to mooch back again ten minutes later.

As it’s got glass walls you might expect a fabulous view of the park, and, during the day, you get a nice bit of green but not really a ‘view’ as such – not least because it’s set back, so there’s a three-foot concrete wall in the way. I suspect that this might improve in the winter when the trees shed and we’ll get glimpses of vista, though of course it will get dark more quickly and once it’s dark all you get is yourself reflected in the glass anyway.

As regulars readers will know, I’m no fan of minimalism in restaurants. 16″ West gets the benefit of the doubt because it’s a modern building which might look a bit weird if they added much plush to it (though personally I’d have given it a go…big white swags of gauze over the windows at night might make it feel a bit more homely) but all the same I could have done with a nice crisp tablecloth given the prices they’re charging – during the day I’m fine with the canteen feel; at night I want a bit of luxury.

But herewith ends the carping. Both times I’ve eaten here have been an absolute joy – the food has been excellent, but, even better, the service is fabulous. Friendly, solicitous and keen to please without being obsequious.

The potted Severn & Wye hot-smoked salmon with Irish soda bread is worth ordering just for the bread – the best I’ve tasted, though I confess to being greedy and shameless enough to ask for more when the tiny amount supplied ran out (doesn’t matter where I go there never seems to be enough bread supplied with pate – something I don’t get – surely it’s the cheapest bit of the dish?) I was looking forward to ordering it a second time when I came again, but word had got round and they’d run out, so I had the fishcakes instead, which were pretty good too. My pal’s plate of charcuterie was wolfed down.

For mains, there’s a big old list of various things, all of which are sustainably and Britishly sourced, listed under ‘From the Farm,’ (meat)  ’From England’s Coastline,’ (fish and seafood) ‘From the Field’ (vegetarian.) Between us we had, on sundry occasions, the Lamb burger, Steak, Gnocchi and Sea bass, of which the lamb burger went down best, but all were enjoyable. The sea bass was particularly tender.

I don’t normally eat puddings, but I was intrigued by the cheese, one of which I hadn’t heard of. I eat all cheeses (even that stuff from Blackheath Market that stinks out the entire Phantom household) but my friend doesn’t like soft varieties, so we asked about the one we hadn’t heard of (the Rosary Ash, in case you’re wondering). A nice, hard cheese, we were told. The other one was soft, so we agreed to have the standard selection between us. Both cheeses turned out to be soft, which at least meant my greed was further assuaged.

When I pointed this out to the waiter, not in a way that was complaining (I was fine, thank you very much, I had two cheeses to eat…), more to let him know that his ‘hard’ cheese was actually more like Brie,  he was all apologies and ran off to take money off the bill without being asked. Then he brought extra crackers for no real reason other than niceness.

The food at 16″ West is very good – one or two teething issues; nothing that probably hasn’t been fixed by now. But the service is excellent, it’s a real pleasure to eat here. It’s somewhere I can take friends and parents and I’d be happy to book it for a special occasions, too. I just hope people get used to remembering where the hell it is, tucked away and secret as it is.

Floating Disco Fever

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Lynne asks:

Wondered if you could recommend any boats that go from Greenwich for a 3-4hr evening cruise.  Looking to organise a summer works ‘do’ for around 80 people – exclusive hire would be too much i think, so would be looking for a joint or shared option.  Preferably with the option of food and dancing.  Have had a quick search but there seems to be so many companies/boats i was hoping a recommendation or two would cut down the search a bit!!

Definitely one to throw open to the floor here. Disco cruises are not my cup of tea at all,  so I need your help on this. I did once have a very civilized meal on the Silver Sturgeon, and the entire Silver Fleet seems to be around the top end of the market (hence my never getting to try it again…) but you’re right, there are dozens of cruises available (I didn’t realise just how many until I looked just now), absolutely none of which I’ve tried.

The Dixie Queen with its jolly faux-riverboat brassiness is at least recogniseable, the others I can’t even bring to mind. In cases like this I often fall back on Trip Advisor, which does appear to have some discussions in its forums about river cruises, though I didn’t see one specifically about food and dancing.

But I know what Lynne means – getting a recommendation from a Phantophile who’s been there, danced that, got the glitter ball, will be the best thing.

Or you could just get a Rover ticket on the Clipper and bring a ghetto blaster…

BTW apparently the world’s largest private cruise ship, appropriately-named The World, will be docking at Greenwich between 4-8th June. The cruisers live on board for a whole year in their own apartments. Paydirt for market stallholders, then.

Full English

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Jane asks:

Any suggestions as to where to grab a good old English breakfast in Greenwich and / or Blackheath?

Want to impress some Spanish friends and their 11-year old son, whose one reason for coming to London was for a dose of bangers, beans, eggs et al for breakfast.

The Phantom replies:

The caff that first comes to mind is GMT down Woolwich Road, in the same row as the Labour party shop (have you seen that scary new picture of Nick Raynsford? I think I preferred the last one where he at least looked bashful…) and opposite the new Turkish supermarket with all the fruit and veg outside – used to be Shiva’s).

I like this place because it’s not in any way tried to be anything it isn’t. It has bare brick walls with faded pictures of nothing in particular, decidedly nasty yellow and green moulded seating and a hand-painted cut-out chef outside. The food is what you’d expect and yes, the full English is very full. Sandwiches consist of half a loaf with your ingredient of choice inside, beverages are tea and (if I recall) instant coffee.

The Trafalgar Cafe down Trafalgar Road near Hardy’s Pub recently had a refurb, which seems mainly have been to turn the space upstairs into a flat and has resulted in a smaller, slightly more awkward eating space, but it still does traditional food, is still always full and still bustling. I seem to remember the sign saying it’s been around for about 50 years, but I’ll need to check that.

My next choice – and probably the one I’d actually take visitors to – is up at Blackheath Standard, Gambardellas. This has changed little since the 1960s except to expand next door. So the decor is classic 1960s mod one side and stuck in the 80s the other. Again, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. And if you Spanish friends have ever heard of Squeeze, they may be impressed to know it all started here.

Over in Blackheath Village itself, the cafes tend to be somewhat more upmarket, so you’re not really going to get that full greasy-spoon experience, but that might not particularly distress your friends, who might be rather grateful for the sort of food Hand Made Food or Patisserie Jade dole out…

There are dozens of traditional, unreconstituted caffs in Greenwich, and they get more traditional as they get further out of the centre –  I’m sure everyone has their favourite – so expect a lot of other recommendations.

The Hill

Monday, February 14th, 2011

When I read that the Hill was ‘under new management’ I was rather worried. The old Hill was a decent restaurant/not quite pub which sold the best hand-cut chips in town, all thick, golden and rosemary. The rest of the food was okay but those chips were absolutely incredible. 

Still, change isn’t necessarily bad, and I was keen to try it with the ‘new management.’ It took a couple of attempts as, in order to get to the place, you have to pass several other eateries/drinkeries, including the Union, and I was tempted away on more than one occasion, including the time I went to the Hill but ended up in the Prince of Greenwich (though that particular trip does seem to have had the side-benefit of ridding me of the one-time-only commenters who used to come onto the blog merely to rant, post ad-hominem attacks and be generally vile, never to be seen or heard of again…) but I finally made those few steps up the road at the end of last week.

And I have to say that, for the most part, it gets a huge thumbs up. If the menu reminds you of Buenos Aires (the one in Blackheath rather than its sister cafe opposite the Hill) there’s a good reason for that. BA’s manager has struck out on his own and now runs the Hill, taking, I believe, at least one of the chefs with him. And while at times he may have seemed a little harried at BA, here he is relaxed, all smiles and charm – a delight to talk with. 

The steaks are, as you might expect from the former manager of an Argentinean restaurant, exceptionally good. Done to exactly how you ask for them, the beef is excellent and the flavour very fine indeed. Many of the rest of the dishes have, like Buenos Aires, an Italian bias and, if they possibly could have done with a teeny bit more seasoning for my liking, that’s a very small grumble – adding a little S&P to taste is a small thing, and not everyone is a salt-freak like me. The pastas are particularly nice. 

We didn’t have the pizza – partially because the steaks and pastas beckoned, partially because they are – well – rather pricey. £12.50 seems quite a lot for a piece of dough with some cheese, vegetables and a slice of meat or two on it. I don’t know if the oven is wood burning, which, if it is will make me try them, just for comparison’s sake, you understand (am hugely looking forward to reviewing Bianco btw) but to be honest, I am so happy with the steak and pasta combo, it’s unlikely I’ll be trying the pizza any time soon. 

The wine list is very good indeed. As might be expected, Argentinian, Italian and the odd French label caught my eye (though not enough to actually mention any by name, of course. Darn, I’ll never make a professional reviewer like this. Note to self – pay more attention to detail…) 

The one real low was the chips. If these are hand-cut, it is by the steadiest paw in Christendom.  They were hot (not always a given) but pale and uninteresting compared with the glories the old Hill used to serve. 

But even this, though I thought it might be a deal-breaker before I went in, is actually a pretty minor thing. I think the Hill has made a step-change. The food is nudging, perhaps equalling or even more, Buenos Aires

It will take several more visits to be absolutely sure – I mean – I wouldn’t want this to be a freak experience and every other time an unmitigated disaster. But I’m prepared to make that sacrifice, for you folks. Darling, it’s hell…

How Many Is Too Many?

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Elaine tells me that Laura, of the Nevada Street Deli, has been told by the council that she can only seat a maximum of eight customers in her delightful, but tiny, cafe and that’s got me to thinking. How many is too many in a cutesy little cafe that sells gorgeous food but is, frankly, very small?

I love the place – it looks good, the people are friendly and the food’s wonderful (though the ‘deli’ does seem to get smaller and smaller in comparison to the ‘cafe’). I am particularly fond of the savoury pastries, and I will be forever grateful for the the embarrassing time when I managed to order (and receive) a takeaway coffee before I realised I’d brought no money. Laura just gave me the beverage, though of course I was so mortified that I rushed straight round to the cashpoint to rectify the issue. 

It’s always a toss-up, though, as to whether I’ll get a seat or have to move on elsewhere. Like other favourite cafes – Royal Teas, Buenos Aires, Red Door, I have to take my chances, and that’s part of the charm of it. It’s small. But that doesn’t mean I want to be squashed in like a sardine, just to get a place. 

How many can a place this size realistically seat, one wonders? The council says eight, which I think is too few. Elaine tells me they can seat twelve to fifteen ‘comfortably’. I’m not sure I agree with that either. I’d like to know what you think. And whether you count the dreaded pushchairs in that figure.

Part of it comes down to whether or not there are large parties. People who know each other are much happier to squash up together than total strangers. That’s what makes us British. You could have a birthday tea for twenty all together and be quite happy one day. Another, one snogging couple, a pair of old ladies, one lone Phantom, a couple of mums and accompanying pushchairs and you’re full. Less of a problem in the summer, of course, when those lovely pavement tables are at a premium. 

So – how many would you say is ‘too many?’

Oh – and while the council’s exercising its brain, how about allowing the deli to open for pre-theatre snacks occasionally? Or the theatre could up its game. Either would do for me. Or – how’s about this – Laura could expand and provide pre-theatre yummies IN the theatre. I’m sure an agreement could be reached…

Helva

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The last time I ate in this building it was the second-worst meal I’ve eaten in Greenwich (even if only by a whisker). It was the godawful Pizza Luna in its final death-days and the food was indescribably bad (though naturally I had a good old go at talking about  the full horrors…)

When it actually died, a couple of weeks after that appalling ‘meal,’ the place seemed to have been closed for good. It must have been shut for at least three years. One thing I had noticed when I’d gone to the horrid loo upstairs was that the place was enormous – and although for a good restaurant, that could have turned it into a large-party venue for groups, for Pizza Luna it was just a wasteland. My heart sank even then – this was ripe fodder for redevelopment.

And indeed that is exactly what happened. I don’t really know what went on behind the scaffolding that was up for absolute yonks, but  sure enough, that large space upstairs has disappeared as a dining space; it’s presumably ‘luxury’ flats now. And still the ground floor restaurant remained boarded up. It did actually get to the point when I began to think it was a shame Pizza Luna had closed, just so we could have had something open in the prime-tourist-spot space (yes, it was closed that long…)

And then things started moving. I noticed the funky chandeliers first, through the cracks in the hoardings. Then they painted the outside red. Something was happening. I asked the guys moving  stuff in,  they didn’t know. Some interesting wallpaper went up, and the Phantom eye, spying through the spaces in the paper covering on the doors, started to get interested…

Helva is a Turkish restaurant. It doesn’t appear to be a chain, not least because the domain name has been registered, but there’s no website yet. It’s a big venture for a one-off and they’ve certainly not stinted on the decor. It’s bright and big, and while I’m a sucker for old-fashioned tablecloths and general plush, the modern trend for bare tables and hard lines works quite well here. There’s a bar with a TV (that I could live without; for me it cheapens the experience of dining, however flat the screen) and mirrored columns. 

I went the second Saturday that it was open. I was out shopping in the market and fancied something light for lunch.

To be honest, I’m not sure Turkish restaurants are very good for ‘something light.’ We were welcomed with a bowl of flatbread slices (which kept filling up) home-made hummus and fat olives. I don’t know if this was an opening offer or if this happens all the time – I’d welcome reports back on this one. 

Of course that’s always a killer because I never allow for freebies when I’m ordering food, and since the food takes a while to prepare, I’m always filled up before I start eating stuff I’m actually paying for. The menu is big, one might  almost think a little too big, but with loads of really interesting-looking dishes. I liked the look of the moussaka, but ended up with the Paticlan (to feed my aubergine obsession) and my pal chose sundry meze dishes. And still the bread sticks and hummus came…

I wasn’t drinking alcohol. I’d only just started shopping and I knew that at some point I’d have to get several bags-worth of fire-gel on the bus  (word to the wise – never get your sister one of those groovy firepots they sell on the market as a Christmas gift, you get saddled for life with buying refills…) so I don’t know what the wine was like. I hope it’s a darn sight better than the house wine at Tas which tastes like – well, not unlike fire-gel, actually. I had a juice; my friend had a diet coke. 

You can’t knock Helva for portion-sizes. My Paticlan was a bit on the runny side, but delicious (not as smoky as I like it, but then I like my aubergine smooooooky.) It came with plenty of salad. The meze worked well, especially the Lamb kofte. We had to tell them to stop bringing the bread. 

Eating anywhere at lunchtime will always be a different experience to the full evening monty, and I do intend to get back there sometime after dark, but on first taste, I like this place. I won’t insult it by even beginning to compare it with its predecessor; this is head, shoulders, waist, thighs and calves above it. Of course, it was very early days when I tried it, clearly trying hard – and it needs keeping an eye on (which will be a hardship, but someone has to do it…) but for the moment I like this place rather a lot. Even though it’s lost its upper floor, it’s still massive – the basement isn’t much smaller than the ground floor, which will make it a good venue for large Christmas groups (not least because the menu is so large it must cover virtually every food-fuss going) 

And the best thing of all – Greenwich seems to be starting – just starting, mind you – to emerge from Scaffolding Hell. The tower at St Alfege’s is emerging, all sparkling and clean, and now that horrid corner where Pizza Luna was is starting to clean itself up (though what the hell is going on where the old fish bar was is anybody’s guess – and what’s going on with the roadworks?)

Maybe we’re going to have our town back at some point after all.

The Great British Fish & Chip Shop

Monday, November 1st, 2010

22, King William Walk, SE10

Boy, has the old Cricketers pub seen some action over the past few years. After stints as the Powder Monkey (a gay bar) the Tiki Lounge (all things South Pacific, but without the magic ’London’ between the two words) and the W-Lounge, its latest incarnation is as a jolly British chippy.

You certainly can’t miss the ‘British’ bit – the place is dripping with union flags from the sign to the pole to the fridge. The line between retro-chic and just plain vulgar can be quite slim, and I’m genuinely not sure which side the decor falls. There’s something a bit brash about it, but that could just be the newness of the tiles, and the giant size of the ubiquitous union flags. Upstairs works best, where the union branding is at a minimum, leaving plain dark tables and nicely mis-matched bag chandeliers to do the talking, if they can be heard under the very loud ‘British Rock & Roll’, which, when I was in there sounded suspiciously like bog-standard Euro-Trance.

You certainly know you’re in chip shop territory before you arrive – the pong hangs around the entire King William Walk/Nelson Road junction in a ‘distinctive’ – and not entirely pleasant –  manner. Oddly I’ve never noticed such a strong smell from, say, Mr Fast Fry or The Golden Chippy, but then I guess I don’t make a habit of hanging around them there parts very often. Once you’re actually inside the shop, the smell seems to disappear entirely, I don’t know how that happens.

The food is cooked to order, which gets a tick from me, and claims to be entirely from British waters. As long as that doesn’t pull on already over-stocked British waters in the name of ‘local’ too much, that seems good, but I do worry a bit. The most sustainable fish aren’t from around here, though there is always the trade-off in food miles. It’s a tough choice. In other matters, eco-issues are at least nodded to. The cartons in which the food arrives are made from bio-degradable, yet heat-holding card, a big improvement on polystyrene. It would have been nice to see washable ‘proper’ cutlery instead of plastic jobbies, and sustainable fish options, such as pollack, to finish the eco-concept.

The service is friendly and fast, given the whole cooked-to-order thing, and there is plenty of choice, from the usual cod and plaice through to fish cakes and scampi, plus battered shellfish, not something I’d come across before, really, and there are a couple of ‘lighter options’ for slimmers, though you can pretty much whistle if you don’t eat fish. The only veggie option I saw was the cheese and onion pie, easily the least tasty of the Goddard’s range, though it’s good to see a local brand being served there.

So – is it any good? I’d say it’s average. The fish is absolutely fine - the ‘special’ batter tastes pretty much like any other batter, but it’s crisp and fresh, and the fish inside it is moist. But the chips, which let’s face it, are what most people buy fish and chips for, are pretty bland. They’re ‘fat’ chips, which gets another tick, but they’re anemic-looking and don’t taste of much at all, unless you smother them in sauce (starting at 20p a sachet). You get plenty in a portion, but they’re unexciting to eat, so no one at my table finished theirs.

The one thing about fish and chips is that you rarely have room to eat anything afterwards, but there are desserts – ranging from kiddie-fave icepops through to the slightly out-of-place-feeling ‘rich chocolate mousse pot.’ There is, of course, the chance to have a deep-fried Mars Bar – doesn’t anyone realise that it was invented as a joke?

Drinks run the gamut from the classic chippie staples IrnBru, Cream Soda and Coca-Cola through to – and I kid you not – a £90 bottle of Laurent Perrier Champagne.

All in all, it’s okay. I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. I’m sure it will do well from the sheer number of tourists visiting that part of the market but for locals I’m not sure that it does anything that Mr Fast Fry and The Golden Chippy haven’t been doing (slightly better) for years.

Christmas Dinner

Friday, October 1st, 2010

Funny, isn’t it. Summer turns into Autumn and almost instantly my inbox starts to turn with it as people begin to look forward to the festive season, despite its still being just under three months away. This post feels a bit wrong, but I can actually see why Barry is asking this so early – I would be asking the same thing too, in his position. He says:

“We are from Australia and in 2008 stayed with our son who lives across the river on the Isle of Dogs – so we spent a fair bit of time in Greenwich ( and walking there through the foot tunnel :-) )  

We will be there again this Christmas – after sailing over via Suez – and will have nearly 3 weeks in the area. I have been searching, searching, searching  for someplace to have a Christmas Day lunch or evening dinner in the area – within walking distance- with no luck so far.

My son, who has now lived there for going on 3 years, can’t provide any info – so am currently at a complete loss. We are amazed to think that there is absolutely NO public transport on Christmas Day in London.”

The Phantom replies

Yes – the state of public transport on 25th December leaves a LOT to be desired. But no matter, there should be stuff to do around here.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are a chaotic joy. The market’s going full-throttle, there are events all over the shop – look at the Maritime Museum, Fan Museum and Old Royal Naval College for possiblities (check out Ian Visits for quirky events further afield.) Carol services are held at St Alfege’s (I can’t remember whether they use the proper, traditional words in the carols or those grim ’contemporary’ ones) and their Advent Windows (still trying to asertain whether they’re on this year, but I have no reason to think not) are a splendid modern tradition, imitated in various places around the country but born in Greenwich, where a different house/shop/venue displays a special window each day of Advent.

Greenwich Theatre’s panto is a must if you’re into that kind of thing (which I am, and that reminds me - must sort out this year’s trip…) and one year Greenwich Playhouse, just above Belushis outside Greenwich Station did the most wonderful adaptation of A Christmas Carol. The writer, Brian Sibley, has promised me some M.R. James but then wasn’t very well. I live in hope that this year he’s all better and raring to go which seasonal ghost stories…(hint, hint…)

But onto the day itself – a tough call for many places, but I have got some good news. I highly recommend that whichever of the following you choose, you book nice and far in advance, just to be sure. If I get any more replies from local eateries that I rate, I’ll post ‘em up here.

I put out the call to a bunch of local restaurants and pubs (sadly there were a few I couldn’t ask because they don’t have email addresses, they have nasty online forms or they use that irritating phone service provided by beer comparison websites.) I had very prompt replies from some, tardier responses from others, and no response at all from a few.

First the bad news – Guy Awford tells me that neither Inside nor The Guildford is open on the day itself (though of course there will be seasonal menus at other times. Good news for the future is that the promised fine dining upstairs at the Guildford is still going to happen at some point – hurrah.)

For large numbers,  French bistro chain Cafe Rouge is proud that it’s opening Christmas Day – even providing a menu on its website. I didn’t even have to contact them. I often go there if there’s a big bunch of us and I’ve neglected to book a table as there’s always room – but for The Big Day, I suspect that booking is advisable.

The North Pole is also open – they do a £49.95, three course set menu for groups (I don’t know what consitutes a group) – call them for further details.

As far as the Greenwich chain INC are concerned, the Bar du Musee and the rather more upmarket Spread Eagle are both open; they are finalising menus at the moment. I was rather surprised that the other INC staple, the Trafalgar, won’t be opening on the Day Itself, but the other two do make more sense.

Maeve at the Hill  on Royal Hill, tells me they’re open for lunch too, and, as with all the other venues, a special menu at £60. Maeve tells me that three courses, plus Champagne, coffee and mince pies are involved in the festive fare.

Finally, I am delighted to say that one of my favourite restaurants in Greenwich, The Old Brewery will be open on Christmas Day. Like Inc, they’re still deciding on details; give ‘em a call for details.

After lunch, I suggest a little tour of all 24 of  St Alfege’s Advent Windows - though don’t forget a nice bracing between-course stroll around the park is also a cherished tradition for many Greenwich families (including Phantoms…)

The Dial Arch

Friday, August 13th, 2010

It’s been ‘opening soon’ for so bloomin’ long that I had frankly given up on ever seeing the Dial Arch open. I used to go past the lovely old building (a mews, perhaps?) on that fantastic ‘village green’ at the old Woolwich Arsenal, and think ‘this could be really good’ but with the financial climate as dodgy as it is just now, I didn’t expect to see it open this year.

But open it has – and thanks to Ken for telling me about it. I’ve now been three times - once just for an afternoon drink outside, the other times indoors to eat. And I have to say, I’m impressed.

Now, I’m a bit of a fan of ‘scruffy’ Woolwich – I really think that much of the town’s charm is that it is a little tatty round the edges. I particularly like the Friday market, a proper market much like one you’d find in the less fashionable towns of France – minus the fabulous fruit & veg sadly, but the sort of place that sells pots and pans, cheap clothing and bizarre electrical items I’m not sure I’d want to actually plug in to a 240 socket. I also really like the factory shops down the high road that actually have bargains, as opposed to the ghastly Bicester. And for Chinese food, I really rate the Favourite Inn, just behind the DLR station.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have time for the more serene, leafy quiet of the Arsenal across the road, and I think they’ve got the Dial Arch just right. I mean – just look at it.

Inside, the style is corporate bohemian  (what Ken describes as “an inevitable mix of wonderful and kitsch”) – bare brick, decorated with things they’ve found around the site and bought-in ephemera, mixed with designer plush – multicoloured velvet chairs and wood/metal tables surrounding a walk-in wine cage one side, which feels quite ‘night time’, squashy leather armchairs and firebowls the other, feeling more ‘daytime-y’ meeting in the middle with a glass atrium where the main bar is. There’s also a semi private room that would be good for birthday parties or Christmas dos. I confess I really like it.

It’s a Youngs pub, but it also sells Meantime. For obvious reasons I can’t comment on the beer; I’m told it’s perfectly acceptable and there certainly seemed to be a whole array of choice on tap. I thought the wine list was better than many.

The food, too, is pleasant, if a little patchy. Not gourmet (though the prices are definitely at the high end of gastro-pub.) The menu is ‘safe’ – modern European plus pizzas and classic pub grub, but sometimes safe is just what you want. The food is not badly cooked and cheerily served (our waiter spent so long joking about how the place wasn’t finished yet – a reference to the walls not being plastered – that he forgot part of our order but he was so keen it was hard to be cross.) The second time I ate, the order was also slightly wrong, but again, swiftly remedied.  The pub-grub seems to come out better than the pizzas – I think the ovens need to be hotter; hopefully that will be remedied soon.

One thing I should also add – don’t get the Japanese rice crackers – two quid for what amounts to be a large egg cup of them represents extraordinarily bad value for money.

Of course relatively few people are choosing to eat-in at the moment, preferring to make use of the giant garden parasols, but I disagree with the person I spoke with who said this won’t work in the winter months. I think it will be a lovely place to enjoy a cosy drink in cold days to come.

For the moment though, a cool drink by the Arsenal Football Club commemorary pillar, with its jolly red pelargoniums, looking across at the pock-marked Roman chap under his own canopy on the building opposite, staring down the barrel of an ancient cannon whilst avoiding the Lawn Sprayer of Doom on the grass takes some beating.

The New/Old Brewery

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I seem to be doing a nice line in being last to review major new establishments in Greenwich just at the moment. I guess it comes to a point where everyone’s trying to squeeze through the review door at the same time, and in those instances it pays just to hold back and let everyone else through first. And let’s face it – the Old Brewery isn’t going anywhere soon…

I’ve been to the New/Old Brewery two or three times now, which will probably give you an inkling of the kind of review it’s just about to get. It seems almost a bit weedy to echo what everyone else is saying but hey, some things just need to be trumpeted as examples of good practice in an area where bad practice is the norm.

When I heard they were considering digging up the old brewery and creating a new one I had mixed feelings – huge excitement for something that was so very appropriate for a great historical site, but also little trepidation. I could hardly believe they’d manage to ever pull off such a project, let alone pull it off properly. Surely someone would put the kibosh on the idea early in the planning stages? Surely something was going to be skimped on, messed up or bodged somewhere along the line? I knew it was the Greenwich Foundation, not the Greenwich Hospital Trust. I knew it was Meantime, not Inc. But still I had my fears.

But a good few years after the idea was first mooted, the archaeology has been done. The beer history has been researched. The molasses-black Hospital Porter has been brewed and the Old Brewery is finally with us.


What can I say? They’ve done it beautifully. From the shiny copper brewing vats to the strange, undulating beer-bottle sculpture hanging from the ceiling (a cleaner’s nightmare, but that’s not someone else’s problem…), from the magnificent, gently arched brick roof in the bar (they did tell me what it was called – something to do with fish if I recall) to the smooth finish on the solid wood seats in the garden, this place just screams ‘class’ (if ‘class’ even deigned to scream, of course.)

I ate there the day after it opened. It’s been strange holding back a review when everyone else has been having their two penn’orth, but hey, that’s how it is, and waiting has at least given me the opportunity to test it out at other times. I was nervous, because our very own Rod is Phantom Brewmaster there, and I knew that if I hated it, I’d have to be honest about the fact.

I wonder how many times per day they have to tell ignorant Phantoms what London Particular is (to save the waiters’ voices, it’s split pea and bacon soup.) I confess I didn’t go for it, but it is an excellent example of the sort of menu to expect from the evening restaurant. British food is prominent (and very trendy just now) with solid, down and dirty London faves such as shellfish and sundry animal innards often cooked with sundry Meantime ales.

The whitebait could have been a tad crispier (though I’ve heard they’ve since dealt with that, apparently it was an early kitchen issue – that’s the problem with leaving a review a couple of weeks) but the salmon was divine. At first I thought that I couldn’t taste the horseradish but testing all the components separately proved that it did have quite a kick – it was just so beautifully balanced by the almost-omnipresent-in-contemporary-cooking beetroot that both became mellow supporting acts, bringing out the flavour of the salmon, rather than overpowering it. It is the single clearest example of perfect-balanced food I have ever eaten. What’s so odd is that I don’t much care for either beetroot or horseradish but in this dish they were exactly what was needed.

I rather fancied the look of the potato dumplings on the table next door, so I ordered them rather than the Dover sole, which I had had my eye on. They were divine – soft and squishy – like a cross between Italian gnocchi and cheesy mashed potato. My only complaint, being a Phantom of Greed, was that I could have easily gobbled a few more of them.

My companion’s rib-eye steak disappeared before my very eyes (with the exception of the odd bits of fatty gristle you always get with such a cut) and was pronounced ‘good,’ which, short of ‘amazing,’ is actually the best compliment I’ve heard from such lips. Since I’d finished the potato dumplings, I scoffed quite a lot of the chips which looked a little square to be entirely hand cut, but oh boy were they good.

Didn’t make it to pud on that occasion (I’d filled up on someone else’s chips) and since I don’t drink beer I only had a sip of the Hospital Porter. I can’t really comment on it as it all tastes ghastly to me, but it’s certainly thick stuff – impossible to see through – and it tasted quite sweet, but what would I know?

I’ve returned on a couple of occasions, armed with friends to test some of the beers. The aim is to work through them all, but actually getting tasting notes out of my pals is hard work, and as a non-beer drinker myself, I am totally reliant on others for such things. I know the Helles went down well, as did the Wheat Beer and the IPA. There was much discussion about the Saison 1900, which, being lambic, is, I understand, always a bit of a voyage into the unknown. I think that it was generally regarded as ‘interesting.’

Last time, we sat outside in what was, frankly, a bit of a chilly garden. But it’s wonderful – it’s going to be absolutely heaving in the summer. The curved brick wall keeps out the worst of the river breezes and the border, although in early days yet, being a Greenwich Foundation thing (I assume) will take it to being somewhat better than the average beer garden. The furniture is solid and inviting and the tables have those little twisty things on them so you can adjust them for non-wobble.

I was drinking the wine – first the house Chardonnay, then the Chenin Blanc. It’s perfectly okay – nothing terrible, nothing wonderful, but it is like so much wine these days, pretty high in alcohol. I only vaguely remember the political discussion between us and the folks on the next table…

I still haven’t managed to have lunch there, mainly because it’s been a bit of an elderly-relative-visiting-frenzy at Phantom Towers recently and I needed to take my visitors to places bookable in advance for access purposes – sadly the Old Brewery doesn’t take lunchtime bookings.

But this is a place I will return to whenever I have the money – you get what you pay for and the Old Brewery isn’t dirt-cheap.

On a site like this you’d really need to mess up big time not to make cash out of tourists. But this is so much more than that – this is a place that locals will see as ‘their own.’ I love it.

The pictures, by the way, are by Steve, who tells me he was the first paying customer…