Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Lady Ottoline

The Lady Ottoline is a refurbished gastropub in Bloomsbury, owned by Scott Hunter and Maria Larsen (so a sister pub to the award-winning Princess in Shoreditch) and presumably named after Lady Ottoline Morrell, Bloomsbury society hostess and avid patron of the arts. The bar area has been thoughtfully restored and has a relaxed bistro feel (more formal dining is available upstairs), whilst the barstools, dark wood bar and ales on tap ensure one foot is kept firmly in the pub world.
I'd read some good reviews about the food here so had eaten a deliberately miserly breakfast in preparation for a full-on, blow-out Sunday lunch. Greedily perusing the menu I decided to start with the fish cake, poached egg, hollandaise sauce and fennel salad, followed by a mixed roast: beef, pork and chicken. All roasts are served with duck fat roast potatoes, green beans, broccoli, roasted carrots, Yorkshire pud and gravy, so all I had to do was choose a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the wine list and we were away. The staff, may I say, were excellent; friendly and chatty, attentive without being pushy and genuinely helpful. Sunday papers and supplements are spread across the bar for your perusal, which is a nice touch.

Fish cakes for me are borderline comfort food. I adore the contrast of the crisp golden coating and soft, yielding centre; add some buttery garden peas to that and I'm happy, but a poached egg and hollandaise sounded blissful and suitably Sunday brunch-esque. Sadly this didn't quite hit the spot. The poached egg was perfect and the hollandaise was rich and buttery but the fish cake itself - whilst generously packed with fish - lacked texture and had a slightly bitter aftertaste. I was expecting the fennel salad to be a small side of shaved fennel, probably dressed with olive oil and lemon; in fact it was a vinaigrettey rocket salad with some bits of fennel in it - not terrible, but I think a simpler salad might have gone with the dish better.

The roast arrived, with a large slice of beef, a smaller one of pork and a chicken leg, along with the accompaniments (I would normally have gone for just the beef but I felt I owed it to you, dear readers, to sample the lot). It was, I'm afraid, disappointing. It was also a little confusing, as some of it seemed to have been rushed whilst other bits seemed to have been hanging around in the kitchen keeping warm. Here are the winners, losers and also-rans of my roast.

The beef: moist and tender but with some unpleasant gristly bits and cooked without a trace of pinkness. Personal choice I know, but roast beef to me is at its most glorious when rare.
The chicken: tending to dry but okay.
The pork belly: very fatty still, as if it had perhaps been roasted too quickly.
The Yorkshire pud: dry and overcooked, a shadow away from burned.
The broccoli and peas: undercooked to the point of being hard. And this from someone who loathes mushy veg and steams everything to the firm side of al dente. (Well, except cauliflower for a cauliflower cheese, naturally, as that is the only example I can think of where resistance is futile. Anyway, I digress; back to the roast.)
The roast carrots and beans: perfect - flavoursome and with just the right amount of bite.
The roast potatoes: awful, frankly. One was okay, the others were solid to the point that I felt if I tried to apply any more pressure with my knife, the whole thing would shoot sideways off my plate at great speed and probably kill a bystander.
The apple sauce: good, chunky and clove-scented.

Perhaps it's not a good idea to be the first customer at 12.30 (and indeed the only customer for the next half an hour) in a place that opens at noon. Perhaps their regular chef doesn't work on Sundays. Perhaps the standard is actually dropping, as one recent reviewer felt (I reread the reviews when I got home, perplexed). I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, as the lovely waitress looked genuinely alarmed when I asked for the bill (over £30 including service) with my food barely touched and asked if everything was all right. Now I'm absolutely not someone who enjoys complaining for the sake of it (in fact I really dislike those people) but I can politely send back an overdone steak or a cold soup without too much embarrassment; after all, if it was my restaurant I would want to know. But faced with her obvious concern, I just didn't know where to start.

Disappointed, I perked up when I realised the Charles Dickens museum is only a hop and a skip from the pub. Guess what? It's closed for refurbishment until December. Sometimes it's just not your day.

Yours, under my own personal raincloud,
Girl About Town xx

Square Meal
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