Friday, March 24, 2006

So ripped off in Soho

Tues 21 March 2006

Headed down south for work so took the opportunity to sample a bit more of London's culinary delights. Ahem.

First stop was the Glasshouse Stores on Brewer Street, just off from Piccadilly Circus. This is a Sam Smith pub (yes, I know - all the way from Leeds to London to drink beers brewed in Tadcaster). Not only must this be one of the cheapest drinking venus in London (more on this in a bit) it's also surprisingly uncrowded in the downstairs bar (the upstairs one was positively heaving).

Precisely because upstairs, with its frosted windows and 'traditional' pub look, was heaving we headed downstairs to a rather small and somewhat dingy bar that was blissfully underpopulated. Our first drink here was a pint of the Alpine Lager, which was a very nice, crisp refreshing beer. The two pints came in at £3.94 - much amazement all round (er, OK - there were only two of us at that point but we were still amazed). The second round was the bitter (at just £3.40 for 2 pints we almost fell off our chairs) which was not quite as good a beer but more than adequate.

Although the pub does sort of pub grub food we ventured out into Soho and wandered around aimlessly for a bit before (fatefully) settling on Carpe Diem on Wardour Street. This is a very stylish and smart looking place and we were looking forward to settling into the comfy sofas and enjoying some good food.

Things kind of went wrong from then on in. The staff (two women) were unbelievably surly. We ordered two cocktails and two bottled beers. The beers were whisked from the fridge and opened before being left to sit on the bar while someone very very slowly made the cocktails.

Our orders were taken and first of all there was a mix up between garlic bread and olives (what we'd ordered) and plain bread, which was duly sent back. The garlic bread was a complete non event (even calling it bread is pretty generous). Out came the mains ... Lee's cannelloni arrived, appearing to be more or less straight from the microwave and looking a bit dry and shrivelled, particularly on the tomato sauce front (a flash of inspiration makes me think it looked like airline cannelloni ...). My saltimbocca alla romana arrived in soup format (yes, I know - the phonetic similarity between 'saltimbocca' and 'zuppa' is frightening) - and so was duly sent back.

The waitress's really feeble apology was that it was only her second day - love, the menu simply isn't that big that that even begins to cut the mustard. I saw you poring over the bloody thing trying to work out what it was I had actually ordered and you didn't even know where the meat dishes were!

While waiting for my saltimbocca, and enjoying a complimentary serve of delectable garlic bread, Matt's chicken with goats cheese and (not in season) asparagus appeared in a portion suitable for starter only (which was pointed out along the lines of 'this is a joke'). Parminder's risotto was not as awful as it could have been, though it takes sheer genius to put a rice dish on a cold plate. In addition, I personally don't think a mushroom risotto should be all porcini - it's too overwhelming and also makes the risotto a rather nasty colour.

My saltimbocca was nasty but I was also hungry and I'm kicking myself now for eating the bloody thing. It had some lovely plastic mozzarella on top, was overcooked and was drowned in a sauce made from stock cubes. Mmmm ... tasty!

It was pretty obvious we were unimpressed - however, our complaints fell on deaf ears. The staff couldn't give a flying crap, the kitchen staff clearly don't eat and customer service is a non event.

My advice - the website is flashy, but stay well and truly clear!
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