Dining in Harlow

Saturday, January 12th , 2008

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Battersea is certainly in need of good restaurants, so I was hopeful when I heard that Tom Ilic (formerly head chef at Bonds) had struck out on his own and had opened there. This was clearly a less ambitious restaurant than Bonds, for sure, but I still had quite high hopes. Unusually, I went for lunch, and despite the excellent pricing for the lunch menu the food was rather a let-down. There were niggling errors in the cooking despite us being literally the only diners. The head chef was in the kitchen, so how much trouble does it take to check on the dishes for your solitary table? The food was decent enough I suppose, but I had hoped for much more. South London will have to be content with Chez Bruce for now.
Yumi is one of those Japanese restaurants that does not get mentioned in guide books, mainly because it caters mostly for a Japanese clientele. On this occasion I went in a large group for a New Year banquet arranged by Richard Hosking, a serious authority on Japanese food. The menu was artfully composed, presentation was pretty (see picture), ingredients generally very good, while service was superb. A couple of technical slips crept in but overall this was a much more enjoyable experience than when I had been once before on my own. Still however, I feel London lacks a restaurant remotely capable of producing food of the calibre that I ate in Japan.
I am very fond of fish and chips, and so the Fish Shop on St John Street is always a pleasure to visit, having excellent haddock in a light batter, and decent enough chips. They also delivered a good salmon and haddock fishcake. If I look back I think the best fish and chips I recall having was the version at Bibendum in its glory days of Simon Hopkinson, and these days it is hard to think of anywhere in London that is truly outstanding rather than merely good, as here. If you know of somewhere please let me know.
The breadth of cooking at the Brilliant was illustrated this week by an excellent sev poori starter, which strays somewhat from their Punjabi roots into Gujarati food, yet still managed to be excellent, with lovely sweet tamarind sauce and plenty of yogurt avoiding the dryness that often afflicts this simple dish. I had another lovely tandoori quail, and if you make the journey to Southall I really encourage you to try this, as for me it is perhaps their best dish at the moment.
Essex is the second largest county in England by population (just below Kent) and yet it manages just nine entries in the 2008 Good Food Guide (and three of these are new entries, so these are boom times for foodie Essex), the highest scoring 3/10. It is therefore not somewhere I go with high culinary expectations. However I at least hope for something edible with decent service. The Churchgate Manor in Harlow managed to confound these modest expectations with some of the worst service I can ever recall in a restaurant. The place was not exactly buzzing, with just three tables occupied all evening. There were three waitresses, yet none of this sullen trio could be bothered to actually attend the dining room other than on fleeting visits. I am not sure where they went for most of the evening, but clearly they had pressing duties to attend to that did not involve being in the dining room. There were candles on the table but the overworked darlings found far it too much trouble to actually light them, and as for topping up drinks, this was clearly viewed as a job for the customer. Bottles of mineral water were eventually delivered, but no glasses; presumably we were supposed to swig it back directly from the litre bottles. The ultimate was when they cleared the starters away; the kitchen was clearly too far to bother with, so they just piled up the dirty plates on a space next to our table and left them there.