Joe Allen, Covent Garden, bags of atmosphere but not the food to match

I was being treated to lunch, it doesn’t happen often but my old Uni friend Tazza was kindly taking me out to celebrate my birthday. She was up from Surrey to do some shopping so wanted somewhere central. I’d read the Covent Garden stalwart Joe Allen had been renovated and re-opened by it’s new owners so I suggested there. I had been previously but not for a few years. It was always a fairly reliable place for a feed if up in Covent Garden. It was also quite good for a celeb spot. It would be interesting to see if this would still get the punters in and whether American influenced comfort food here passed muster compared to new arrivals like Balthazar and Mishkin’s. We were booked in for 12 as Tazza needed to get away before 2 to get her train back to the rural burbs. I got there first, perched up at their splendid old school bar and ordered a blue moon beer. The helpful barman told me as it was my first beer I got a free shot of bourbon, it was barely midday but I thought why not. So pepped up no end by my boilermaker I sat down for lunch.

The menu was fairly predictable stuff, grills and salads. The cheeseburger is still on the menu or rather not ( their gimmick is you have to go off menu for the cheeseburger). So we shared a starter of battered squid and I went for burger and chips whilst Tazza had some grilled salmon. The squid was OK but if I’m honest a touch rubbery but the batter was nice and crispy. Tazza enjoyed her salmon which came with greens and mash. However my cheeseburger was underwhelming. Firstly it wasn’t particularly tasty and it had been sitting out on the passé for too long so had gone luke warm. This really annoys me in restaurants. From where I was sitting I could see all the way into their kitchen and could see it and my chips cooling as they got Tazza’s salmon ready. Then when the food eventually came to the table there was a bit of unpleasantness. The kitchen porter bought it straight to our table rather than the waitress. So the manager told off the waitress who told off the porter, all within earshot, not cool. As a paying customer I just want my food and I don’t care who puts the plates down. Obviously you don’t want a confused service but I really don’t need a class system enforced amongst the staff especially as the room was at best half full. It also sucked the fun out of what had been a fun casual lunch.

Dessert was better, a nice baked cheesecake with a good sharp compote on the side. The drinks were also good, they do a fair amount of wine by the 50cl carafe which is all you need at lunchtime. Our South African Chenin Blanc was very nice. Tazza obviously picked up the bill but she said it was just shy of £90 which I though was going some. The food was no better than you’d get at somewhere like Brown’s or Cote and this is more expensive. Sure this is nicely done up and the theatre notices around the room emphasise it’s credentials as a cherished part of theatreland folklore but they should have done better. You can walk around the corner to Sophie’s Steakhouse and have a better meal for the same money. Other places nearby are more trendy. Joe Allen’s needs to sharpen up it’s food offering if it wants to prosper. Having said that it does switch on the charm and atmosphere once you descend it’s steps but it needs more from the food and service to maintain that spell over the diner.

Monday, June 24, 2013
Overall rating
Food 6 | Service 6 | Atmosphere 9 | Value for money 6

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