I’m sat here wearing my lesbian girlfriend’s bra and knickers, whilst picking my nose and eating it. That’s a lie. I don’t have a girlfriend.
And here starts another completely unoptimised introduction to a roast dinner review – Google’s robot ain’t gonna approve. Suck on my gravy-covered nipples you search engine.
This Sunday was going to be a long-overdue catch-up with two friends, and they wanted to take me to one of their favourite Clapham haunts, No 32 The Old Town. I do have a natural suspicion of bars with a number in their name, but I’d mentioned it to a couple of other people and they rated it highly (albeit one due to the apparent preponderance of attractive men…yum) so I put aside my concerns of imagination withdrawal, and went to go watch a naked Russian man on a lead pretending to be a dog.
It’s culture, innit. Being from the UK’s city of culture, I have become quite an expert on art. Basquiet, Gustav Klimt, Cheryl Cole – I know my shit. By the way, have you been to Hull yet? City of culture. It really isn’t shit any more.
Have I mentioned yet that the venue had beef brisket on the menu? Hmmm, beef brisket. Just let those words roll around inside your mouth, then inside your head, then inside your belly.
Anyway, so you probably not only know me as an expert on roast dinners, and a thoroughly attractive young man, but also as a bit of an expert on culture.
Sometimes it is good to do something to build up the anticipation to a plate of beef brisket, hmmmm. Woof. So I took a beautiful young lady to see some weird Russian art, including a guy that pretended to be a dog (with some photographed simulations of bestiality), a guy that nailed his bollocks to the floor outside the Kremlin, and those punks with coloured balaclavas named after lady’s genitals. Hmmm beef brisket.
I really do know how to impress a young lady – how I am still single is beyond me. Before you ask – she walks far too slow. It wouldn’t work. Hmmmm beef brisket.
Not only did we go see Russian protest art, but also had a scoot around the Design Museum. Quite an excellent architectural remake – however I couldn’t help but feel that it was rather a waste of space – leading to the exhibitions being super-crammed, disorganised and far too busy for the mind. It really seemed bad design.
And then on the way to the venue, my two friends who wanted to go to No 32 The Old Town cancelled on me. Pah. I did briefly consider cancelling and going somewhere closer but we stuck to the plan.
On arrival we were seated in these American diner style tables, with red leather seating – not quite sure how 5 of us would have fit around them, and that was not the only problem. I am overweight, for sure, but I’m not horrendously so. You wouldn’t particularly look at me and think that I’m incredibly fat – just that I have a bit of a beer belly. Quite a bit of a beer belly.
I was properly squashed into the table. For the whole time we were there, the edge of the table was sticking into my belly. Not entirely comfortable. And very bad design.
Also I didn’t know what the venue was trying to be. Split into two, a front bar/diner around the central bar area, with more of a restaurant at the back with the now-customary open-plan kitchen. Part modern, part trendy (trendy – not cool) – yet it felt confused and soulless to me. And another cluttered, confused…design.
Then came the killer. No beef brisket left. The waitress went to the kitchen and double-checked. No, definitely none left – she did seem to be concerned about her safety and my pathological state (I had barely barked), however they still had chicken roast dinners so that would have to do. I don’t like having the same meat two roasts in a row, but hell, with only beef and chicken on the menu in the first place, it was what it was.
My mood had been soured. And it wasn’t about to improve.
Dinner took no longer than 15 minutes to arrive, perhaps closer to 10 minutes. My first thought was “is that it?”. For “£16.50”? I must have been barking mad to pay that.
Starting with the “grilled truffle savoy cabbage”. This was certainly grilled and had quite a pleasant smoky flavour to it. There was almost enough of it to feed a North Korean family for a week (JC4PM) – too much for a roast dinner. Though I noted no sight nor taste of truffles.
There were a few carrot batons which were perfectly acceptable , alongside two other root vegetables, in the form of cubes.
One was swede – sweet, soft but rare. The other was plentiful – also sweet but much less soft. I am not entirely sure what it was – it looked and felt like turnip but didn’t have any of the vaguely nutty bitterness that one would usually associate with it. Maybe it was some form of root vegetable that we don’t have up north.
All root vegetables were creamed – well, if you count a few blobs of single cream randomly blobbed onto them as an after-thought as being creamed.
One note of particular cheer was the handful of sprouts. I’ve reviewed over 100 roast dinners, both here in London and on my original blog in Reading (had to give it up and move away due to the mafia), and do not recall ever having sprouts served. It doesn’t have to be Christmas Day to serve sprouts, you know. These were on the tough side, yet had the distinctively earthy yummyness/yuckyness that you’d expect – delete as appropriate.
That was the end of any cheer. Fuck you Santa.
The roast potatoes had at least been roasted in duck fat as they advertised (though my compatriot wasn’t convinced of this). So they had that kind of oily glaze that you’d expect. However, what is the point of using duck fat if you are not going to roast them anywhere near long enough? These were fairly solid roast potatoes – under-cooked though edible. One of my roast potatoes was even green. Green potato – in a restaurant – when I’ve paid “£16.50”. I was howling by this point.
Not sure if the green came out – my photography skills are on a par with the roast dinner skills of this pub…restaurant…dining room…gastropub…oh I don’t know what it is.
The Yorkshire pudding was small, overcooked and stale. In the form of some kind of pot, as opposed to pudding – this was thin, crispy and utterly pointless.
Not only was I disappointed with the lack of beef brisket – but I was also disappointed with the lack of chicken. Just one small breast with a bone in. A limp and ordinary thing – it tasted fine but then again it is difficult to make chicken taste bad, unless you burn it. And thankfully it was cooked through – small mercies. “£16.50” I paid for this. At least I had plenty of cabbage and unknown white cubes – really got my money’s worth.
Finally, the gravy was actually pretty decent. Kind of blended with the blobs of cream, a reasonable consistency, for the south. However, the trendily-shaped container that it came in (from a rather hesitant waiter) was so badly designed that it just poured down the side of the jug. Note the theme, here?
The menu also suggested salsa verde. Was this supposed to be on the chicken? It was neither visible to the eye nor tongue. Though at least they did ensure that there were no peas included, as per my request.
I was overdue a bad roast dinner, and this certainly qualifies. The initial disappointment of there being no beef brisket was compounded by a mixture of poor quality of the important items (expensive ingredients), too much of the unimportant items (cheap ingredients) and various things missing.
The general environment was disappointing, from being squeezed into the table to having money squeezed out of me. Not to mention that it was often hard to hear my accomplices due to the volume levels.
Service was friendly – though not exactly 12.5% service charge kind of service. Of course, the service charge was added to the bill. I guess it won’t be too long before electricity charges are added to the bill, alongside drink-pouring charges, waste-removal charges – maybe restaurants will start adding business rates contributions too. Oh for £16.50 meaning £16.50 like it does up north.
After the meal, I said a 5 would be a harsh score. But the more I think about it, the more I am disappointed at the poor value bilge that was served, and the whole experience. Therefore my score is 4.82 out of 10. It was so bad that I vaguely considered nailing my bollocks to the floor in protest.
My vegetarian accomplice (yes I do speak to vegetarians) was also disappointed with her halloumi burger – though her issue was more the fries than the burger itself.
I suspect that the problem this venue has comes from having such a huge range of dishes available on their menu. I had the most amazing dinner at Rok Smokehouse on Saturday night – yet they only had 4 mains to choose from. No 32 The Old Town simply is trying to be far too many things at once, a point emphasised by the decor and feel of the place.
Simplicity brings beauty.
And to think, the two accomplices that stood me up were particularly keen on taking me there. One even pretends to be a northerner (yet drinks Pimm’s). I hope it was the most painful hangover that you have ever had. You owe me for this.
Next week I’ll be in east London, and I’ll be back to impersonating a cow.
No 32 The Old Town, Clapham, South London
Station: Clapham Common
Tube Lines: Northern
Fare Zone: Zone 2