“ Blues Bistro and Bar / 42-43 Dean Street / London / W1D 4PZ / Tel. 0871 332 4382. „
Its not often that I look forward to going out for a meal when I have had no say in the restaurant venue but this time it was different. The supper club that I belonged to (a group of like-minded city-types) had selected the Blues Bar & Bistro in Sohos Dean Street as the place for our next meeting.
Having not heard of the venue before I set out to see what I could find out about it. Previous meetings having been at places such as The Ivy, Le Pont de la Tour and Nobu, it had a lot to live up to. Initial impressions were good.
Awarded an AA rosette for culinary excellence, reviews were uniformly good:
> 'Maybe it was the food or the amusing helpful waiter which put us in such a good mood.' Evening Standard
> All [dishes] hit the spot for a breezy, up-for-it night out, but don't overlook mellower lunches. Versatile private room good for parties Square Meal 2003
> Staff are friendly and efficient and the food is excellent. Time Out 2003
and so to the evening.
The entrance on Dean Street is unassuming, nestled temptingly near to Quo Vadis, a single glass door leading almost immediately on to the bar. Jostling past the crowd that had gathered just inside the door took some dexterity and a brief survey of the clientele suggested that the market for this particular establishment was 20-30 somethings, high fashion prevailing. At 1800 on a Friday night the place was heaving.
As ever, I was the first to arrive and rather than going down to the private bar in the room that had been set aside for us I decided to have a drink at the bar, asking the maitred to let me know when other members of the party arrived.
The bar itself was pleasant enough with high stools at the bar itself and comfy chairs with low tables surrounding. My order was taken by an Antipodean bar man (they get everywhere!) and I waited and waited and waited. Eventually my G&T arrived, payment was taken and I waited for the change and waited and waited. Service here was not what you would call efficient! The change arrived, as it so often does, on a little plate. Given the lack of speed and the fact that despite having four different gins behind the bar I was not asked which I would prefer (I was served the more expensive Bombay Sapphire when I would rather have had Tanqueray) a tip was out of the question on this occasion.
The selection of drinks seemed good and the cocktail list was certainly varied. I did hear a complaint about a warm bottled beer and another about being wrong changed.
And I waited and waited
The bar area itself is not large, but opens out towards the back into a dining area. This was by no means as busy as the bar. The tables were well spaced (for a London establishment) but I must say that the noise (and sights) from the bar would have put me off dining here.
Food was arriving into the restaurant from the kitchens via two dumb waiters situated behind the bar. The food looked to be well presented but Im not certain that I was happy with the fact that the bar staff alternated as waiting staff and that food was coming out into a very very smoky bar area before arriving at the tables.
The menu itself was extremely varied with a passing nod to the US via Maryland crab cakes and eggs Benedict. Appetisers varied in price from £4-8 with main courses at £10-16 with side dishes an additional £2 each. As with many London restaurants if you want potatoes you have to order them at that additional charge.
A number of set menus are available ranging in price from £24 39 with a degree of choice in each. Better value would be the Tenner menu which operates on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings and on Saturdays between 1730 and 1930 where 3 courses (again you get a choice) will set you back a mere £10.
Vegetarians are not well catered for with a single choice on each of the set menus and really only salads on the a la carte.
And I waited and waited
I was beginning to wonder whether I was in the right place until one of our party passed through on her way to the toilet (note: there is only one toilet in the whole building for the ladies - you can guess at the queues). The party had gathered downstairs and the maitred who had promised to inform me that they had arrived had reneged on that promise. The busy excuse didnt work here, the private room was locked and she would have had to unlock it to let them in!
So, down to the private room.
The private room is situated in the basement of the building. Despite the lack of natural light it was a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. A dedicated barman served drinks from a small bar (here service was a little slicker) and nibbles were available (although I do object to being expected to eat olives without the help of either a cocktail stick or a napkin!).
A deposit of £10 per person dining was required for the private room with a minimum spend on a Friday or Saturday evening of £1000.
The first set of schmoozing out of the way I took my time to look around the room and was vaguely disappointed. The table, set for 20, turned out to be a collection of folding trestle tables pushed together. Granted, they were covered with white linen tablecloths but that didnt disguise the lumps and bumps!
The background music was controlled for both the private room and the main bar/restaurant from a music system in a cupboard in the corner of the private room. Whilst it was unobtrusive most of the time we were disturbed on several occasions by staff going into the cupboard to change the music.
The biggest fault with the private room lay in its location. You enter the room via double floor to ceiling glass doors. Immediately outside these doors is the entrance to the Gentlemans room. This meant that the room was far from private and, indeed on two occasions, meant that we were disturbed by lost men! This is not the place for a top secret business meeting!
Eventually, after much delay, we sat down and the bread was brought round. Five different breads were on offer, freshly baked (or warmed!) and rather good. Since there were so many of us dining we opted for one of the set menus, copies of which were positioned at the place settings. Much to my surprise, when the order was taken, the waiter wanted to know what we wanted for dessert. This is possibly one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed in a restaurant and certainly very bad form. Aside from not knowing at the start of the meal whether you fancy something heavy or light, it makes one feel rather like one is being processed.
As my appetiser I selected pan-fried scallops with rocket salad and mango chutney. Presentation was good although it would have been nicer to see more than three scallops on the plate! The scallops were whole and included the roe (something that I feel should have been mentioned on the menu). They had been perfectly cooked but unfortunately were delivered to the table luke warm. The rocket salad was rather too overpowering for the delicate flavour of the scallops, although the mango chutney did balance the two off slightly better than I had imagined.
As a main course (and there was a considerable wait before this arrived) I selected pan fried breast of duck with Chinese greens and a sweet ginger sauce. Here presentation let the side down terribly. The breasts had been cut into two without a thought as to how (simply cut in half width ways), the Chinese greens lacked any greens with merely the stalks being presented, and the sauce had been poured liberally over the whole and was sloshing round the plate.
The accompaniments were not provided to individuals, rather, small bowls of fries, mash, new potatoes, carrots and beans were placed centrally on the table and oversized spoons placed with them. Again, this was not really what I had expected at all and seemed to be a way of the staff avoiding the service and the restaurant avoiding any wastage as there was hardly enough to go round .
As for the taste of the meal, again it was merely luke warm. The vegetables were overcooked and the mashed potato had the consistency of Smash! The ginger sauce that accompanied the duck was far to powerful and drowned the taste of everything. The duck itself was overcooked and tough.
Friends who had the tiny portions of monkfish fared no better with reports of overcooked, dry fish and the medallions of beef were quite simply crucified.
Wine service was acceptable in terms of speed and frequency (the only part of the service that was swift although, being cynical, thats where the money is made). The wine list itelf is comprehensive with examples ranging in price from £11 to a Marguax at £70. The waiters were certainly not up to scratch with wine etiquette, however, with wine being poured from the wrong side, tail ends of red wine being emptied into glasses and glasses being topped up with wine from different bottles.
For dessert I played safe and went for the chocolate torte with Grand Marnier and fresh oranges. This was without a doubt the highlight of the meal. The orange sauce was light and complimented the smooth, yet rich mousse. The light chocolate base was uninspired but nonetheless pleasant.
Coffee and petits fours followed. Again, the choice was uninspired and the coffee nothing but mediocre.
All in all, I had a pleasant evening, but contrary to Ned Sherrin who provided the Evening Standard quote above, it was certainly not the food or the amusing helpful waiter which put us in such a good mood. That was purely down to too much alcohol and good company. I felt extremely let down by the restaurant and it is certainly not an experience I will be in a rush to repeat.
At £60 a head for the evening I left lighter in pocket and quite simply, with the blues.
If I were to recommend this bar I would only consider recommending their £10 set menu which, despite the issues I noted would still probably just about be good value or a trip to the bar if buzzing socialite is your scene. I would not recommend it for private dining, a romantic meal for two or indeed, under any other circumstance.
Atmosphere: 7/10 for the bar and 4/10 for the private dining
Value for money: 3/10 (although the £10 set looks good)
Overall sorry only 3/10
Blues Bistro & Bar, 42-43 Dean Street, London W1 Tel: 020 7494 0717
Open for Lunch: Monday to Friday 12.00 - 3.00pm
Dinner Monday: - Wednesday 6.00pm - 11.00pm; Thursday - Saturday 6.00pm - 11.30pm