Saturday, 4 August 2012

Sam's Brasserie and Bar: given a roasting

There are better roasts out there.

I must be an alcoholic. Recently, I seem to walk out of every restaurant thinking about the wine rather than the food.

I'd love to live in a world where, instead of three square meals a day, we all had three half-hour drinking sessions. Having a big breakfast really would define whether you get through the day; the Weetabix Driving Instructor advert would become instantly more interesting, hopefully fatal; and this article would have even more entertaining typos.

Sadly, this world is awash with health implications and funding shortages as it is, so my idea will never catch on - save in Scotland. Instead, I will have to satisfy myself by saying that the bottle of Portuguese Quinta da Falorca 2007 I quaffed at Sam's was utterly brilliant - light, fruity, moorish and well priced (£24) - and then move on to the food.

I don't know exactly why I didn't like Sam's Brasserie and Bar (what a start to a review). It's a lovely place to be on a showery Sunday afternoon. When the sun shines it bathes the whole restaurant  in white light, and when it rains the windows can the rain, like a force field keeping you safe. And the service is excellent - homely, bright-eyed and smiling - something even AA Gill noted on his visit. He also wrote about the food, which is usually a good sign.

But it just wasn't that good. My starter was no more than a sum of its parts - mozzarella, mint, rocket, broad beans and chilli, drizzle with just a little too much olive oil but desperately under-seasoned, so much so that even the mozzarella seemed to lack flavour, despite the lumps being the size of a child's fist.

Being Sunday I had selected the roast, something I rarely do in restaurants for reasons that will become clear. To be fair, the roast pork was considerably more refined and thought out than the starter. Usually the word tower is not one I like to associate with food, despite Michelin chasers' obsessions with defying gravity. If they could invent soup towers they would. But here it worked. The gravy was evidently poured over the meat and veg before topping it with crackling, which meant the meat and cabbage was drowned gloriously in gravy, but with the crispy skin was still dry and crunchy. The creamed cabbage in particular was delicious, with a sweet tang that stopped the meal becoming a bland mess of stock and meat.

Unfortunately the potatoes was sub carvery-pub standard, and the meat a little too fatty. No doubt the pig led a good life, but I would guess that he rather took advantage of it. I see him supping cognac and debating politics like the end of Animal Farm, rather than rolling in mud and sleeping in a metal half-barrel.

London seems obsessed by the perfect roast. Time Out wastes a whole issue on it each year, and the main problem is that roasts need to be cooked with care, attention and, most importantly, lots of time - something commercial kitchens can rarely afford. Great roast potatoes are not hard to achieve when cooking for four, but cooking for 100 and they become nigh-on impossible. So a busy brasserie on a slightly chilly Sunday is not the time to go, and not when you are charged £15.50 for the privilege.

Something British restaurants really can do is a stick toffee pudding, and I can't help but order it whenever I see it. Partly because it's such a comforting bit of cooking, but also because it's like pizza. Even when it's awful, it's still pizza. It's still awesome. This one needed that comparison. It was hardly heated, and the ice cream on top, which should have been cream within moments, was still perky on top as I neared the end. But it was sticky, it was sweet, and it was delicious. It was everything you'd ask of a pudding. Except hot.

Ending a review when you are so undecided is impossible. It's one of those places where you could go and, if you ordered a different dish, have an entirely different experience. Maybe worse, probably better. All I can really say is, get the Portuguese wine. And get me some help.

Sam's Brasserie on Urbanspoon   Square Meal

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