Fri. May 20th, 2022


If you’re not a monumental luvvie, I have to explain that the original Joe Allen was founded in 1965 in New York as a hangout for Broadway theaters. The London version opened in 1977 in Covent Garden, a kind of replica tribute to the original and so our current restaurant renaissance dates back several decades.

During the first restraint, the entire production packed its suitcases and moved to a new venue, a few hundred yards further down Burleigh Street, one of those narrow little canyons between Covent Garden and the Strand that once stood in the 1930s like a publicly bred. toilet. It is undeniably still in the heart of “Theaterland”, though today it feels less part of the glittering “Business we show” and more of a struggling outgrowth of tourism.

The dining room is a bravoa piece set-build. It looks like it was chiseled in the back of a grim old hotel just above street level, but once you’re through the doors and led by a sly little zigzag to help suspend disbelief, you’re in a brick-built Manhattan basement .

The decor is enigmatic. This is a comprehensive collection of posters for notable Broadway flops. With no context, it is an extremely eclectic body of graphics, of varying aesthetic quality, united in their depiction of incredible memorable events. This is the opposite of the Hard Rock Café style of decorating with pop culture beginners. You stare at a very strangely designed image and think, “Wow… I have absolutely no reference point for this”.

The mise-en-scene is perfect, but the look – the brick, the bare plumbing, the mismatched chairs – has been endlessly cloned. Joe Allen was one of the originals, so today, at first glance, it may not feel like the very cliché it gave birth to.

Crispy duck & watermelon, salted cashew nuts

Crispy duck & watermelon, salted cashew nuts © David Loftus

I started with “Crispy duck & watermelon, salted cashews”, in which a duck breast is nicely seasoned, with individual flavors of cinnamon and anise that emerge from the chorus and sing solos. There was chilli heat – lots of it, but not indiscriminately – all delivered by a syrupy glaze / sauce that also contained sesame gravel and a crunchy nut grit.

The salad even managed to make baby runner beans appetizing, which I, a lifelong hater of the awful bastards, would swear was impossible. It was a great starter, a sumptuous, well-designed and beautifully executed thing just let down by the kind of watermelon you can get in London in January. I mean, it showed up, but his performance was thin, weak, and nervous.

I do not think I have ever roasted a piece of cod fillet so well. Some very severe dry heat was applied, so the skin was crisp and papery, the flesh underneath caramelized at the edges, but flaking to reveal pearly softness. They laid it over something that could easily have been an average tomato sauce, but was actually a pool of fully processed shrimp gumbo.

It was flavored with finely chopped chorizo ​​but, with invigorating attention to detail, shot through with chips of the smallest imaginable okra. There were braised coconut beans, flavors of sherry, fresh little tomatoes and, surrounded by the puddle of red, a border of spicy herb oil. You would not necessarily guess it from the menu description, but it is to cook with integrity and ambition. Also has the New York cheesecake with fresh raspberries.

I almost fell in love with the new Joe Allen in spite of himself. It took me a while to understand that, if it feels like a theme restaurant, its theme is itself. It’s a clubhouse for a community I do not understand, maybe even a generation – I can not tell you how refreshing and rare it is to find myself the youngest person in the dining room – and yet, the bubbling with conversation, the enchanting magic of live piano music, archetypal surroundings and delicious food. . . Blimey. . . What if the theme is “Ideal restaurant”?

To be honest, I did not expect to enjoy reviewing what is effectively a repeat of a repeat, but the quality of the food and the hearty hospitality convinced me: Joe Allen is not a gray old actor not, but a strange bomb-proof classic. This show, as they say, will run and run.

Joe Allen

Burleigh Street 2, London WC2E 7PX; 020 7836 0651; joeallen.co.uk

Beginners: £ 8.75- £ 12.50
Main network: £ 17.50- £ 37.50
Desserts £ 9- £ 15

Follow Tim on Twitter @TimHayward and email him at tim.hayward@ft.com

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