Finding a bad restaurant in London is actually pretty hard. The diabolically bad restaurants don’t survive long in London’s commercially competitive environment and most of us have the good sense to avoid the merely awful ones, such as the tourist traps like the Angus chain of steakhouses. What’s left are the sea of mediocre and plain average eateries that you have to navigate through to find the gems (hopefully with the help of resources such as this blog). Unfortunately I managed to have one of the most shockingly poor, seriously overpriced restaurant meals I’ve had in a long time at the Great Portland Street branch of Villandry.
Villandry is a small chain of French restaurants with most of its branches in London. I’ve discovered that some chain restaurants can actually be quite good and some of my office colleague chums at my day job have recommended Villandry, so I approached the place with an open mind, only to have my faith go unrewarded.
In a break from the usual style here at The Picky Glutton where the review generally follows the structure of the meal itself, I’ve decided to experiment here by dividing the review into the following sections: The Good, The Passable, The Bad and The Ugly. The Good section is depressingly short.
The decor at Villandry is attractive and tasteful. The chandeliers, the heavy drapes, the attractive lamp shades, the candle-lit tables and the rustic wooden beams in the ceiling are an eye-pleasing combination. Although the place was fairly busy on the weekday evening when I dined, the crowd of tourists, couples and businessmen weren’t too noisy, which is a good thing given the bare floors and walls.
The nicely decorated interior at Villandry is one of the few good things this restaurant has going for it.
Service is generally polite and helpful, although it’s not nearly as efficient as I would have liked, especially as there didn’t seem to any shortage of staff. No one offered to take my coat and scarf on arrival and there was a considerable delay in having my table cleared at the end of the main course and in having my bill settled when was I ready to leave. I also had to repeatedly ask for my glass of tap water to be refilled and also had to ask for a sharper knife when assaulting my main course.
As a starter I ordered the Pear and Bleu d’Auvergne rarebit with green leaves. Bleu d’Auvergne is a fairly pungent French blue cheese. I prefer the much tangier and saltier tasting Roquefort, but the creamier, sweeter Bleu d’Auvergne was a better fit here when mixed with the pureed pear and spread over bread. The Bleu d’Auvergne used here was rather tamer than other examples of the cheese that I’ve had, the bread was bland and should really have been toasted, while the understated fruity taste of the pear could’ve been stronger. Despite all this, the rarebit was quite pleasing. It turned out to be the highlight of the entire meal which is a damning indictment of what follows next.
Posh cheese on toast. Except there’s no toast. And it’s not that posh.
Bread is an under appreciated thing – a freshly baked, varied selection of interesting breads can help make all the difference to a meal. Unfortunately the basket of sliced white bread dumped on my table was bland and, while not stale, had clearly not seen the warm embrace of an oven in a long time. I could’ve done better by rummaging in the bins round the back of my local Tesco.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Equally disappointing was my dessert of honeycomb ice cream with chocolate sauce. The ice cream was overwhelming in its cloying sweetness and had none of the subtle, layered creaminess and delicate sweetness of the wild honey ice cream with crushed honeycomb at Wild Honey. The dark chocolate sauce was overpoweringly strong, but I could live with that since it blotted out the sickliness of the ice cream.
Not worth the calories.
While waiting for my main course of pheasant served with spinach, sweet potato mash and a slice of sausage roll, I was informed by a waitress that a ‘problem’ had arisen during its preparation and that it would be delayed by 15 minutes. If I had known how it would’ve turned out, I would’ve taken this opportunity to order something else instead.
Pheasant is often denser and tougher than other poultry, but it shouldn’t be as dry, tough and tasteless as the slabs of flesh that I was expected to consume. It had none of the gamey, woody taste pheasant should have and I was dearly tempted to send it back. The sausage roll that came with it was better with a nice peppery taste and crisp, yet flaky pastry. The bed of spinach and sweet potato was competently done, if unremarkable. None of this could rescue the irredeemably awful pheasant though.
I don’t want to live in a world with pheasant this bad.
The side dish of parmesan fried courgettes with a chilli relish was an unmitigated disaster. The courgettes had lost their soft, buttery taste and were encased in a hard, breadcumb-like exterior that didn’t taste anything like parmesan. The chilli relish was about as spicy as ice water, but slathering it over the courgettes was the only way I could swallow those vile fingers of deep fried inadequacy.
Something that bears a passing resemblance to food.
I don’t gain any pleasure in highlighting the failings of a bad restaurant – behind the dire food and haphazard service, I’m sure there are normal, everyday people just trying to make a living. But my experience at Villandry was so awful that I have to warn anyone that will listen to stay away. I honestly can’t understand how my office chums could have recommended this restaurant if they were served the same quality of food as I was. If they weren’t, then there were clearly multiple cock-ups of catastrophic proportions in the kitchen during my visit, which wouldn’t bode well for consistency of execution.
The poor quality of the food is all the more unbelievable when one considers the £50 price for my meal (that includes the service charge). For that price there are numerous restaurants in London that serve expertly prepared, delicious cuisine backed up by faultless service. Villandry is currently running a 50% off promotion through Toptable.co.uk, but even at half the price I couldn’t recommend the place to anyone.
Address: 170 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 5QB
Phone: 020 7631 3131
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 12.00-15.00, 18.00-22.30; closed Sundays and Bank Holidays, but available for private hire.
Reservations: not necessary since you shouldn’t go unless you’re some sort of sadist.
Total cost for one person including free tap water: £50 approx.