Selecting a restaurant is a challenging and underappreciated art. Like a fine wine pairing, you must balance subtleties and sensitivities to find the perfect accompaniment.
The final meal of our family Christmas represented the Sheppard’s pie trifle of a pairing challenge. Within our three-generation party we had a vegan, a diabetic, an eighty five year old and a pregnant Mrs A. The requirements were clear and non-negotiable; no foreign food (which I took to mean Asian), a first-rate wine list, no background music, palatable vegetarian options and a short walk from the centrally located hotel.
But, with an unadorned menu (dishes are simply labelled as Lamb, pea, Lobster, etc.), a reasonably priced Rothschild Latife Caro and prime location, French Window seemed, on the surface, to be the perfect pairing.
Head Chef, Simon Kealy arrived at French Window in September from Abergavenny, by way of Saudi Arabia. Having learnt his trade at The Walnut Tree – a restaurant very dear to my heart – I expected sensitively prepared, delectable dishes. By and large, this is what nearly everyone in our party received.
Acutely aware of its IFC location, a cunningly designed Narnian passage transports you from Apple Store aesthetic to Michelin magic in a few short yards. However, as it transpired, we were not transported to a world of wonder, but to a classroom on the first day of restaurant management school. The sommelier was still learning the difference between white and red, splashing wine into glasses with wanton abandon. And the waiter was still reading the order-taking chapter, neglecting to tell us that key dishes were not available.
However, things started to look up when the food arrived. Generous slabs of creamy butter (surely the yardstick of any good French restaurant) were accompanied by a trio warm bread. My starter of lobster ravioli was dense (perhaps a little too dense) but the bisque was light, silky and full of flavour.
The lamb I ordered remained conspicuous in its absence. Everyone else’s mains arrived. I waited. Everyone finished their dishes. I waited. After the third time of asking I asked the work experience girl to fetch the manager.
The manager, an insufferable little man with a plastic smile and Child Snatcher eyes, sauntered over, lent in too close and nonchalantly asked if there was a problem. Even after artfully deploying my trademark bewildered death stare, he still didn’t seem to grasp the problem of not receiving food in a dining establishment. I cancelled my order.
Things then took an unexpected turn. Rather than lamb, I received chicken goujons accompanied with a sweet and tangy Asian condiment. These were deeply satisfying and I had to bat away Mrs A’s wondering hands more than once. The surprises continued as I also took possession of Steak haché and pommes frites, which although a little too heavily seasoned, again hit the spot.
And so it was, my final dining experience of 2017 happened to be the worst. Like the pairing of Red Bull and airline fish congee, the whole experience left a turgid, acrid taste in the mouth. Simon, you’re food is wonderful, but please send your front of house back to school.
n.b. I can however recommend the McNuggets, Big Mac and fries from McDonalds IFC.
How much? Not really sure – I didn’t pick up the bill
Where? The bowels of IFC
Who goes? Bankers wining and dining low level clients