Monday, 20 February 2012

PJ's Bar & Grill: because nowhere else has a grill?

Not for me, but definitely for a certain type of person.

Another day, another classy restaurant trying to sound accessible by putting a name in its name. Today's is called PJ's Bar and Grill.

What a stupid name for a restaurant. Sure, shout about the bar - it's better stocked than most restaurants - but of course it has a bloody grill. What kitchen doesn't? You might as well call a Camden sauna a sauna & brothel.

They may mean a big industrial grill, but given I was invited there for breakfast, and the morning menu consists mostly of poached eggs, that is rather irrelevant.

PJ's has just rebranded its menu, claiming to be a haven for the hungover. If this were the case, they would have more than four non-alcoholic drinks on offer, or at least put the bloody marys above the Champagne.

The food hits the spot, full of salt, fat and hearty food. I had poached eggs and hollandaise sauce on bagels. The hollandaise was excellent and I have no complaints save the hefty price tag of £11, which was particularly galling given that my friend's full English cost just £3 more.

But this is Kensington - on this bright Saturday there was more money in there than in most Swiss vaults. They don't care if the eggs cost £11, or even that the full English costs the same. They don't look at the price. They look at the paintings of royalty playing polo, the lovely wood panelling and enormous gin selection that makes the back bar sparkle like diamonds. They also looked in theatrical horror when a young boy, in a fit of good humour, threw some chips over the balcony. 

It's a decent place, especially if you like Champagne and eggs for breakfast. My only criticisms are the poor non-alcoholic drink selection and the high prices. But if you're breakfasting in Kensington, I doubt you need to worry about either.

52 Fulham Road 
020 7581 0025
Pj's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Livebait: caught in the net


Just before Christmas I met one of the 2.67 million unemployed people in the UK. I must have met hundreds - the Daily Mail envisages them walking around the country like zombies in a horror film - but I saw the real impact of it at Livebait on the Cut in Waterloo.

Why was an unemployed person eating on one of the trendiest streets on south London, I hear you ask. They weren't. It was the waiter who was unemployed, or soon to be. Livebait is no more, their website is now a white scar on the internet. It seemed that our waiter had been informed of this that very day, and during the meal we watched a man slowly fall to pieces. It was like a TV dinner that got a little too real.

The whole situation was mad. We actually had to wait thirty minutes for a table, which is not the usual sign of a restaurant going into liquidation. After retreating to a nearby spanish bar, we returned a little the worse for wear, and more than little giggly, after an ill-advised margarita and crossword race. We were confronted by a sweaty, middle-aged man, rushed off his feat and on the verge of tears.

Once seated we failed to flag down any service for a good 10 minutes, and were on the verge of giving up and leaving when he came rushing over and collapsed to his knees at our side as if praying. With the table taking his weight, he took a deep breath and said:

"So it is easier to explain what we do have on the menu than what we don't. Our suppliers have stopped delivering, half our staff aren't working and I will very soon not have a job."

So we set about the task of choosing between scampi, cod and plaice (that was it) and contemplating the situation.The waiter was crying, the menu had more dishes crossed out than not, and the specials board looked like a child with ADHD had been set lines and wondered off. We decided to stay, partly because it was now 9pm, but more because we didn't want to be the trigger that caused our poor waiter to kill himself.

The food was rather irrelevant by this point - and, given the amount and speed of the margaritas, my memory is sketchy. The wine was drinkable, the food good - although the chips were a little too chip-shop soggy to be served in a mid-market fish restaurant. I struggled to see why this poor man has been put in this position - busy restaurants should not fail, even if the decor has more in common with a kitchen show room than an eatery.

But as the meal went on we created a sense of camaraderie, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. So why has it failed? Being a chain, our increasingly honest (and possibly drunk) waiter assured us his was the most profitable branch and that they had been let down by the failures of others. I wouldn't blame the people in the restaurants. There will always be a market for good fish and chips, which is what Livebait served, and the fact we waited long enough to put away eight shots of tequila is testament to that.

Livebait was a good restaurant, albeit built on an industry beset by environmental and economic issues. Evidently it proved too much, despite the demand. Our waiter, like so many unemployed people, was a (sweaty) dolphin caught in the net - although it didn't help he forgot to charge for our starter.

So, if a man feels he has to deliver the specials in the prayer position, tip well. And pray for him.

I would give the location, but I guess it doesn't matter where it is now ...

Lazer Quest: Oh no... wait a minute

OK Belgo apparently.

The faux-industrial pipes and grating were cold and calculated. We were all crushed together, waiting for the siren. The tension was almost physical ... when would it be our turn? Where would we be taken? Out came a lady dressed all in black, looking surly.

"Garrett Party"

We followed her into the lift. She closed the bronze grills with a reverberating slam and the lift jerked into a descent. After what felt like an eternity we shuddered to a halt and she wrenched open the gate. It was at this point that I remembered this wasn't Lazer Quest. This was a Belgian restaurant chain called Belgo. I wasn't six, laughing at how the neon lights showed up the geeky kid's dandruff and made our teeth glow. I was 24, and I was about to order moules frites in a champagne and lobster bisque.

In many ways, that was a disappointment to me. The food was nice, although I didn't taste a lot of champagne, lobster or bisque in it. The beers were excellent, and made me wish I had been a Trappist monk (minus the celibacy and the fact that you to dress like a nun). In fact, I think the only reason to visit Belgium in the beer. Although I have to say that whatever I seem to try, however adventurous I am, I always return to a Chimay.

So the decor is bizarre, hence my fantasies, the costumes frankly ludicrous, the food unintelligible for any other moules frites (oh, and there weren't enough frites either), but there is something entertaining about the place. It feels unusual, it feels special and not just in a novel way. It's unique - or at least as unique as a chain can be. And, except for the specialist beers, it's pretty well priced. It's not for couples, it's not for parties - it's a great last ditch idea for beer lovers.

So to conclude, the greatest disappointment about Belgo was that it wasn't Lazer Quest, and I don't know how to make that a constructive criticism.

50 Earlham Street  London WC2H 9LJ
020 7813 2233

Belgo Centraal on Urbanspoon   Square Meal