The Victoria pub is tucked away down a quiet residential street in East Sheen. The chef and part owner is Paul Merrett, who cooked at places such as Interlude and the Greenhouse, as well as the Farm in Fulham. He was otherwise engaged tonight. The dining room is at the side of the bar, and includes a conservatory area. There is a wooden floor, which with the background muzak gave quite a noisy feel. The feel is quite casual, and there were no tablecloths, which is perfectly appropriate for a pub. Starters were £6 - £8.50, main courses £11 to £18 and desserts £5.50 to £6.75
I was pleased to see that the bread is made from scratch, with a display of white and brown loaves served as slices in a little basket. For me the brown in particular was a little doughier than ideal, but at least they go the trouble of making it (4/10).
The carefully chosen wine list had extensive tasting notes written in a lively style. Choices include Cederberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 at £38 compared to a retail price of around £12, the enjoyable Ad Hoc Wallflower Riesling 2008 at £33 for a wine you can pick up for around £12 and Cote Rotie Patrick Jasmin 2007 at £59 for a wine that costs around £24. One naughty feature was that a few dessert wines were listed by the glass, but they were not 125 ml measures (which is what they are supposed to be), and moreover the measure was not declared, which was potentially misleading.
My starter of fennel with green peppercorns with quail breast was pleasant, the risotto having reasonable texture, though the stock used did not have a great deal of flavour, but the quail breast garnish was cooked well enough (3/10). This was vastly better than a “panzanella” salad (involving bread flavoured with olive oil and tomatoes) of prawns. Sadly the prawns were woefully overcooked, alongside some rocket, gem lettuce, Parmesan and rather mushy tomatoes (less than 1/10).
I had hoped that the prawn problem was an isolated incident, but then the main courses arrived. A tagliatelle with capers, black olives, chilli tomato and basil unfortunately lacked seasoning and any detectable chilli, but was also lukewarm and rather limp in texture. A second attempt at the dish was hot and restored the chilli to the picture, but the pasta texture was still on the soggy side (1/10 at best for the second attempt).
Sea bass with sag aloo with onion bhaji and tomato chilli jam is an old dish I recognised from the Greenhouse. If only it had been cooked as well. The sea bass was cooked properly and had pleasant taste for a farmed fish, but the onion bhaji was visibly overcooked (so why did it leave the pass?), and went back for another go. When version 2.0 bhaji arrived it was less overcooked, but was rather greasy; a local high street tandoori would not have served this. The sag aloo was really under-spiced, so what you had was really just some slightly soggy potato and spinach (0/10, though the fish itself was fine).
After all this we were really surprised to find desserts were very capable. Buttermilk panna cotta, red gooseberry fool and stem ginger Madeleines were a nice combination. The panna cotta had good texture, the fool tasted of fruit and the Madeleines tasted of ginger, albeit were a fraction drier than ideal (still easily 3/10). Summer pudding was also very good, with a thin layer of bread and lots of ripe fruit (4/10).
Our waiter was very pleasant, dealing with the problems politely. This was a very frustrating meal, because the desserts and the home-made bread showed that there was some ability present, yet the savoury courses were mostly a train wreck. Also, I know from the past that Paul is a capable chef, in which case why is leaving the kitchen in charge of someone who is clearly not?
The bill came to £44 a head (the pasta was not charged for, which was something). I was a bit surprised that no manager came out at any point to inquire about the series of problems, though I did stumble into the owner in the car park who at least seemed sympathetic. However, when I go out for a meal I really want to be in a position where sympathy is not the required emotion.