WHY IS IT SO HARD PEOPLE? WHY? (I will start an Opening Hours Page of Shame soon. Get ready for it.)
Back to Ngon Ngon in Clerkenwell. It turns out they were open on a Sunday afternoon when I dropped in for a restorative bowl of pho to cure what ailed me. So that was good. (But please…someone please come up with the cure for the common cold.)
Not so good? The fact that the temperature in the restaurant had been set to “Par-Boil.” I could barely eat, I was so hot. And I certainly couldn’t eat a steaming bowl of hot pho.
So I got some spring rolls and some noodles instead. And while the veggie spring rolls were delightful, the beef noodles had me contemplating the word “unctuous.” Is “unctuous” a good word or a bad word? I really can’t decide. “Unctuous pork belly” doesn’t sound so bad. But “unctuous noodles” makes me feel a little, well unctuous.
The redeeming factor? Service was sweet and the prices were right.
I had a very odd experience at Bird of Smithfield the other day. I dropped in after checking out the Charles & Ray Eames exhibit at The Barbican — I am obsessed with good chairs — and it was a bit on the later side but the restaurant website and all the Internet AND the sign out front assured me that the bar was open ALL DAY LONG.
There were a few people already inside when I entered. A startled but very glamourous (glamazon?) hostess approached me. “Can I help you with something?” For a moment, I looked around, confused. Was I in a hardware store?
“Um…I’d like to have lunch please. The bar is fine.”
The glamazon looked confused. “You want lunch? We’re not serving lunch…”
“But the sign outside says…” I started. Plus, the other people in the bar seemed to be eating something, or at least, finishing eating something.
“Let me check with the kitchen.”
I stood around for a few moments and then she confirmed that they were indeed serving lunch and I could take a seat. I picked a table and never saw her again.
A little while later, another server arrived to take my order. I ordered one (just one) steak sandwich and a green salad and left it at that. There was no set-up on the table (fork, knife, napkin) so I requested that and she brought it over.
She put the napkin down on the table. I picked it up and put it on my lap. She looked at me, annoyed, and asked “What are you doing?” And then proceeded to storm away, get another napkin, and purposefully and slowly place it down on the table along with the fork and knife as if trying to tell me “I am going to do this slowly so you understand how things are done here.”
I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong. I like to put my napkin in my lap when I sit down in a restaurant.
Someone else came to the table. “Do you want green salad or chips with your sandwich?”
“I already ordered a green salad so I think that should be fine.”
My server seems confused. “So you want the sandwich, a green salad, and a green salad on the side?”
“Um, no…unless what you’re saying is that the sandwich comes with a green salad or chips? I don’t think it does. I mean, if it does, I guess I’ll have the green salad and you can cancel my side order…”
“The sandwich doesn’t come with salad or chips.”
“Um, ok. Then I’ll have the green salad that I originally ordered.”
This server disappears and I never see her again.
The server that was annoyed by my use of my napkin appears with my sandwich. “Do you want any sauces with this?”
“Perhaps some steak sauce would be nice?”
“We don’t have any steak sauce. We have ketchup, mustard and mayo.”
“OK, I guess that’s fine. Just bring me those.”
I open the sandwich. It’s covered in mustard.
I eat my steak sandwich, poke around at my green salad, and leave Bird of Smithfield, sated but confused.
Surprise! I went out to lunch in Clerkenwell! Sorry, I don’t travel far for lunch when I’m working from home, so EC1/N1 it is. And 155 Bar & Kitchen it also is. And you know what? I like 155 Bar & Kitchen. I want to move in. I want them to come over and decorate my flat. I want to be a kajillionaire so I can buy all their jewelry and spritz myself with all their custom scents. And I really want that gold herringbone floor.
But first, a word about the service.
I called and made a booking because you know…there is nothing more awkward than trying to dine solo but no one has any space for you. I arrive at the restaurant and they immediately know it’s me. They show me to a table, perpendicular to a nice enough man but if I take this seat, I will pretty much be staring at his jaw the entire meal. He’s dining solo too. This feels awkward. Am I the only person who thinks this is awkward?
I am shown to another table. The bench is bedecked with pillows. A kajillion pillows. This cannot be normal. Am I to recline like a pasha? Why all the pillows? But then I realize…the table next to me has gotten rid of all their pillows and put them on my bench. I hand all the pillows to the host and sit down.
And I open the leather-bound wine list.
Only it’s empty.
There’s nothing in it.
The server arrives. “Would you like something to drink?”
I order the chicken caesar salad, a ridiculous bargain at £8. £8! It’s not a huge portion, but it’s still pretty perfect. (What it misses in presentation, it makes up for in taste.) They must have a sous vide machine or something back there at 155 because the chicken is ridiculously tender. Either that, or someone is very good at the poaching. If so, I need to have them over to my house because my frozen chicken breasts never taste so nice when I poach them. (Probably a little pan-frying there too.)
You know what’s even nicer than a chicken caeser and a glass of Sauv Blanc when you’re dining solo? GOING SHOPPING IN THE RESTAURANT AFTER LUNCH. It’s like my dream.
Yes, 155 Bar & Kitchen is all the new thing: the LIFESTYLE thing. A “carefully curated” thing. Go have lunch, go buy pretty trinkets. Go hang out at the wine bar downstairs. Now there’s a sure way to make money in the restaurant industry. IF…you can attract the foot traffic on a weekday afternoon…people who want to eat your food and buy things they really don’t need on a Wednesday at 1 pm and then drink wine downstairs afterwards. Hmmm.
The Verdict: I like 155 Bar & Kitchen. I hope it prospers.
Seriously…the pace of change in London is unbelievable. There’s a new skyscraper — The Shard — and London Bridge Station is completely unrecognizable. (Classic moment: I had to ask one of the station masters WHERE TO FIND THE TRAINS. Also, where did M&S go?? I found it. Eventually.) The area around Old Street even more so unrecognizable. There are new coffee shops everywhere, and the dodgy Chinese ballroom is now Rotary Diner, with the most gorgeous of jewelbox bars in the basement.
I was in London for the 4th of July. What do all the American employees of an American company in London do in London on the 4th of July? They go to the Rotary Bar Diner for PULLED PORK. And it is unbelievable fantastic. (Although the corn bread was a little on the dry side.) Amazing to see “American” done so well on this side of the Atlantic, but after Pitt Cue Co., I should not be surprised.
Also, the lemonade is AWESOME.
All that being said, they revealed their British side by only providing us with ONE measly little napkin each. Why don’t British people like napkins??? I have always wondered this. Also, the service at Rotary was slllooooowwwww.
The Verdict: Go, please. Although I hear they might only be a pop-up so go soon.
The pace of change. For years, my stretch of City Road in London was desolate. Empty. There was a Pret a Manger, but not much else. We got excited when the pixtos place opened up, but after too many bad meals there, we were no longer so keen. And then I left the city. And everything good happened. The dodgy Chinese ballroom became Rotary Diner (more on that some other day), and the dodgy Chinese takeaway window became YUM BUN. And Yum it is. Very, very yum.
Yum and PACKED. My colleague Echo warns me we must go early or else we must wait. And we do go early. But still we wait. The queue is deep. But for £7.50, we get two buns and some pot stickers and we sit in the window of the old dodgy Chinese ballroom and watch the hipsters cycle through the Silicon Roundabout and I wonder…why are my lunches in America so f*cking boring.
And then I also wonder WHAT IF, but then I get sad so we leave.