Over the summer I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work as part of a team in the opening of a brand new restaurant in Borough Market. Because of my time as part of that team, I learnt the importance of The Soft Launch; the week where customers are given a cheeky “please forgive our mistakes” discount. It’s a fair compromise – staff need to have the chance to live test their skills and a run of service, but customers shouldn’t have to pay full price for a service that isn’t 100% tuned.
The weekend just gone saw the soft launch of brand new restaurant The Green Room which can be found on Upper Ground behind the NT and BFI Cinema, and so with that please read this following review knowing that I visited this new restaurant on the first day of their “test weekend”, and that I have no doubt what-so-ever that they will have already improved many of the elements of their service.
At least I very much hope that is the case…
We arrived to an entire team full of smiles, keen to welcome us and ready to serve. I didn’t go to a private school, but this restaurant is what I’d imagine a private school canteen would look like, with nicely laid tables that look similar to those you might find at a picnic, and quirky “home made” salt and pepper shakers. It all looks very Ikea, if not maybe a little nicer. I’d like to say now that there is nothing wrong with Ikea, so please don’t take that comment as an insult. It suits the need and what I believe to be the desired vibe of the place. The attention stealer of the room is the two story high floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the road and a side patio. The whole place has been designed more with summer in mind; this will be the perfect place for al fresco dining when the temperature rises, as the side doors look to be able to open fully to bring the outside in, but for now, with the temperature on what seems like a rapid decline, this is an indoor restaurant. Although it did seem as though the option to eat outside hasn’t been completely discarded, as big cosy blankets are ready for distribution by the front door (Unless they expect the interior to become chilly?! I hope not, or they’ll be in for a long, cold and lonely winter!)
Our waiter was helpful and happy to answer (to the best of his first day abilities) any questions we had about the menu. The soft launch 50% discount offer included drinks too so we chose a few beverages from their well stocked drinks menu, which ranged from soft and hot drinks to wines, cocktails and beers.
The food menu isn’t what I would have expected. I understand ‘The Green Room’ is a reference to a room in which performers can relax before or after a performance, and is a natural name given the association with the neighbouring National Theatre, but the open plan, lightness of the place would suggest maybe a more natural, healthy or almost creative approach to a menu. With a quick scan of the dishes available, it seems more as though they are looking to go in the american cuisine direction, with dishes such as baby back pork ribs, hot dogs, burgers and Sloppy Joes being the main attractions.
I chose the Sloppy Joe priced at £11.50. It was my own fault that I didn’t read the full description of this dish properly prior to ordering, but I had assumed that with the name “Sloppy Joe” and a price higher than a tenner, that I had ordered a sandwich consisting of the traditional American ingredients of a Sloppy Joe: ground beef, onions, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, served in a hamburger bun. Alas, this Sloppy Joe contained no meat what-so-ever! This was a vegetarian dish made from diced mushrooms, jalapeños, chipotle, onions and green peppers served in an onion bap. Delicious though it was, with a great mixture of flavours, just the right amount of spice and a wonderfully soft but tasty onion bap, this is definitely NOT a Sloppy Joe. The kitchen team may wish to consider re-naming this dish to avoid confusion in future, as well as a price drop, because there is no way this meatless dish is worth £11.50, even if it does come with your choice of side dish – I went for the homemade baked beans which, in truth, were incredibly tasty with a great fresh tomato sauce tang.
Other dishes ordered for the table included the £13.50 Flat Iron Steak with green pepper corn sauce. Steak is one of those dishes where enjoyment is completely dependant on the individuals cooking preference. We all know this, and if a restaurant is going to put steak on the menu, they should be prepared to cook it as requested. Unfortunately The Green Room struggled with this, and we were informed that the rarest they would cook the steak would be Medium/Rare. To me, this is ridiculous. I like my steak rare or blue. In some cases, I like it practically still mooing on the plate. That is my preference, and when I’m paying high prices for steak, I want it to taste as delicious as possible, and to me, pink, oozing blood is delicious.
Last summer an article was published on the Telegraph website (read it here) that discussed the issue of certain meats being cooked rare, and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) were now making restaurants cook “all poultry, as well as liver and offal until no pink remains”. Westminster Council told restaurants such as Hawksmoor that they could “no longer serve [their] burgers rare.” One might be able to understand to some degree that certain meats that have been “played around with” such as minced beef, should be cooked rare with caution, but Michael Caines, a chef with two Michelin stars for his restaurant at Gidleigh Park, on Dartmoor, said: “It is ridiculous, to be quite frank […] The customer has a right to choose.”
With all this in mind, had The Green Room been told that they were not permitted to cook their steaks any rarer than Medium-Rare, we might have been sympathetic – we could all have had a good old bitch about the Lambeth Borough Council, accepted it (begrudgingly) and moved on. But this was a case of stubbornness from a chef who doesn’t appear to have customer satisfaction at the top of his list. For a chef to refuse to cook steak anything less than Medium-Rare just because of personal cooking preferences is just silly, and will result in disappointed customers and possibly lost future custom. And in fact, when the steak arrived, it was Well Done. Not a hint of pink could be detected when slicing through the middle, and while (to their credit) it still looked like a juicy piece of meat, it was not anywhere near what they had promised. On sending it back, the hostess approached us and said the chef would not cook it any rarer than Medium-Rare and that is what he believed he had served us. He hadn’t, and if a chef is not prepared to cook a steak more than one way, it simply shouldn’t be on the menu at all. If a superb restaurant such as Flat Iron on Denmark Street (where by chance I had my lunch today) are capable of serving steak blue, then so should this place. Something I hope they seriously consider before their official opening this Thursday.
As we couldn’t have the steak cooked how we wanted, it was exchanged for a plate of the Grilled Calamari with Pesto and Slow Cooked Winter Vegetables for £10. A beautifully presented dish with well cooked squid (un-battered) and a lovely collection of well cooked veg including carrots and cabbage. Calamari and Winter Veg isn’t a combination I would have thought of putting together myself but there’s no denying it worked. A much better choice.
Having 50% off is always the best way to get as many people trying as much of your menu as possible because no-one can resist cheap food and drink! It is what then lead us to trying a selection of the desserts and even a cheeky cocktail (because it’s okay to drink cocktails during the day on a Saturday).
The dessert menu features one of the cheapest Baked Alaskas I have ever come across, and that is before the discount. £5 for a Chocolate & Caramel Baked Alaska is a steal, and it tasted lovely. No, it doesn’t taste as good as the gorgeous boozy Baked Alaska from Tom’s Kitchen, and it didn’t arrive flaming from the kitchen to a host of oohs and ahhs, but for £5 (or rather £2.50) is was quite impressive. The fluffy mirangue was sweet, while the chocolate ice cream beneath was rich and the caramel sauce hiding in the centre was velvety.
We had requested that in addition to the chocolate sauce that came with plate of profiteroles we ordered, that we also have a side of cream. Confusion between the waiting staff and the kitchen meant that the dish arrived without chocolate sauce (err, what?!) and instead of cream, a dollop of cold custard was placed on the edge of the plate. When we asked for the chocolate sauce, it came in a side bowl, and while it was silky and addictive, it might have been nice to be served warm. The cream inside, though I didn’t try it myself, left an unpleasant aftertaste – these were possibly made with cheap ingredients to allow for it to be priced at a low £4.75.
An Espresso Martini (known as a Mozzo Martini in this place) was also ordered, and to the credit of the bar staff, it was as good as many I have tried in some well regarded cocktail clubs (even if it did take about 5 minutes longer than our puddings), though with a price tag of £8 one would hope it would be.
It may seem that there are a lot of negatives in this review (three paragraphs on the steak issue might be a little much, but a girl has to make her point, right?!) but honestly, I believe this place has what it takes to become a really good restaurant. The mistakes with the profiteroles can obviously be forgiven, and the slowness with our drinks can be too. I just think the problem is that is place doesn’t have a clear idea of exactly what it is yet. The rustic, au natural style of the aprons worn by the staff along with the simplistic style of the tables suggests organic, clean cooking, but the dishes offered suggests otherwise.
Certain dish names definitely need to be reconsidered, and you already know what I think about the steak, but if the staff keep up their friendly dispositions and eagerness to help, then they surely can’t go far wrong. I just fear that they’ve chosen the wrong time of year to open a place so perfectly suited to Summer dining. I hope i’m proven wrong.