Whatever you do, don’t be late.
Update July 2013: this restaurant has now closed.
One of my favourite pieces of professional restaurant criticism is written by The Times’ Giles Coren. Now only available to Times subscribers, the entirety of the review is dedicated to an excruciating account of the poor service he received at the opening of Roka in Fitzrovia seven years ago. Although he admitted the food was excellent, he refused to mention it in any detail as a result of the bad service inflicted upon him. I’m tempted to do the same here, but I’m not that self-indulgent.
Despite being nestled in among smart Georgian and Edwardian buildings, it’s impossible to miss the Notting Hill Brasserie thanks to its distinctive gas lamp-festooned exterior. The general feeling of moneyed elegance continues into the foyer with its chequered-pattern tile floor, large piano and moodily lit bar. It can be tricky having a conversation while waiting in the bar though, as the piano is played at full blast since the music is piped into the main dining rooms.
Once seated, service was efficient if rather cold. The trouble was getting seated in the first place. Although my dining companion Baron Greenback arrived on time, I was 30 minutes late for our reservation due to Tube issues (an unfortunately common occurrence as any Londoner can attest). As a result, the sour-faced receptionist made us wait in the bar for 20 minutes before we were seated. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that if the restaurant had been packed with lines snaking out of the door, but once we were seated there was only one other occupied table! By the end of the evening, only half a dozen other tables had been filled with dozens of others unoccupied.
As if being punished in such an ungracious and mean-spirited manner wasn’t enough, the cruel receptionist neglected to ask Baron Greenback for his coat and bag, despite offering such a courtesy for all the besuited City boys that came in after us (and were seated before we were). Perhaps we were treated so shabbily because we were casually dressed in jeans and chinos, unlike the City boys? Not everyone at the Brasserie is a total arse though. The bartender seemed good-humoured unlike his colleagues and willingly fetched Baron Greenback’s jacket and bag at the end of the evening, even though Greenback had lost his cloakroom ticket and no one else was around to help him.
Despite being treated like leprosy-afflicted sex offenders, Baron Greenback and I settled into the candle-lit dining room decorated with odd artworks and looked forward to some good food. The meal got off to a good start with the bread selection which included an olive roll which managed to successfully capture the juicy saltiness of olives. The walnut rolls were suitably nutty with some raisins studded throughout for a touch of sweetness.
I was pleased with my starter of langoustines which were firm, plump and juicy. The creamy mushroom sauce was unremarkable, but the fluffy gnocchi had a slight squidginess to them which was quite endearing and provided a nice contrast in texture to the langoustines.
Baron Greenback wasn’t as satisfied with his starter of sliced beetroot served with balls of fried, breaded goats cheese. The raisin and pine nut dressing did little to disguise how unsuited the beetroot and goats cheese are as a pair. The entire dish felt a little thrown together.
The diabolical toad was more impressed with his main course. Squash encased in puff pastry with feta and pine nuts and served with celeriac purée sounds intricate, but it’s basically a vegetable pie. The puff pastry is suitably airy, flaky and not too stodgy, while the squash has a butteriness to it that isn’t obscured by the chalky feta which blends nicely into the background rather than dominating the dish.
I continued my seafood theme by having turbot as my main course. The firm, meaty, juicy, well-cooked fish was accompanied by creamy mashed potato and some salty, creamed vegetables. The real highlights were the single, lone oyster, which was deliciously creamy, and a very small dollop of smooth, salty caviar. These two tiny accompaniments were the source of most of the flavour in this dish, so it’s a shame there wasn’t at least a little more of either of them.
As a side dish, we both opted for a helping of triple cooked chips. The chips were thickly cut with a lovely golden exterior, which sadly was only a touch crispier than standard chips. The interior of the chips was too airy and bitty. Hawksmoor’s triple cooked chips still reign supreme in my affections.
Baron Greenback called shotgun on the intriguing sounding financier for dessert. Sadly, it wasn’t quite as luxurious as it name would suggest. A soft fluffy pear cake is paired with cinnamon ice cream, but the alleged flavours of both are far too subdued to be enjoyable.
My own dessert of cocoa bean crème brûlée with coffee ice cream and salt caramel truffle was a mixed bag. The coffee flavoured ice cream was, like Baron Greenback’s cinnamon ice cream, far too bland and the salt caramel truffles weren’t nearly as chewy, salty and sweet as they should have been. The crème brûlée was more pleasing with a firm, crackly crust leading to a creamy, subtly chocolatey interior.
If I was judging The Notting Hill Brasserie on food alone, it would receive a three star rating. Some dishes are quite accomplished, while others are a mixed bag and other just plain disappointing. At this price, I’d expect not scattershot quality, but consistent accomplishment. Once the unforgivable rudeness is taken into consideration however, the Notting Hill Brasserie deserves no more than two stars.
I can only hope not everyone who is late for a reservation at the Notting Hill Brasserie is treated so shabbily – one way to ensure you aren’t is to go somewhere else. A good Modern European bet is The Ledbury which is nearby. It’s not only reputed to be the best restaurant in London bar none, it has a gallant track record for customer service.
Name: Notting Hill Brasserie
Address: 92 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill Gate, W11 2PN
Phone: 020 7229 4481
Opening Hours: Monday 19:00-22:30, Tuesday-Sunday noon-15:00 and 19:00-23:00
Reservations: if you do make a reservation, pray to whatever god you believe in that you’re not late.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks shared between two: £70 approx.