The Carpenter's Arms serves up tolerable food but hilarious service

Saturday, March 15th , 2008

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It is a while since I have been Roka (sister of Zuma, pictured) and really enjoyed almost all the dishes we had. A tuna tataki salad with apple and mustard dressing was really superb, while even a simple grilled field mushroom with garlic was cooked perfectly and had good flavour. A rice hot pot with crab did not have enough crab, and its delicate flavour was drowned out by wasabi, but this was the only flaw in an otherwise excellent meal. Overall Zuma just has the edge of the two, but I am not sure at which it is more difficult to get a reservation.
The Carpenter’s Arms just won “gastropub of the year” in the new Good Food Guide London, though on this visit that would seem a tad generous. The food is hearty enough e.g. a rabbit and vegetable pie, but the menu strays too much into over-ambition: a chickpea soup was fine, but was that that clump of dandelion doing in the middle of the bowl? This was really misjudged since the dandelion just tasted bitter and subtracted from, rather than added to, the dish. I felt like shaking the chef and saying “this is a gastropub; no dandelion required” but that was tricky since he had absented himself on the evening of our visit. Objectively this was just about 2/10 level, but Chiswick is awash with gastropubs these days, and two of them are better than this: the Duke of Sussex and the Devonshire. These also avoid the comical service I encountered at the Carpenter’s Arms (for which read the review).
I wandered round the corner to local Tarantella, a simple family-run pizzeria where the staff really are Italian (rather than putting on an Italian accent but actually being from Bermondsey) and where the pizza is very well made indeed. Garlic bread is absurdly generous in size, but there are worse flaws in a restaurant. Not somewhere to make a journey to, but this is a step up from the usual high street pizza chains.
I also went to an enjoyable charity wine auction at 1 Lombard Street, where in addition to food by chef Herbert Berger, there were also guest courses from Shane Osborn of Pied a Terre and Raymond Blanc.  Given that they were cooking for 170 people, the food was surprisingly well-made.
The very final Michelin 2008 guide is always the last one to come out: the “Main Cities of Europe”. This is a bit of a mish-mash, as it mixes in cities already covered by the national guides with a few waifs and strays that Michelin presumably does not think it can sell enough guides to. This includes Scandinavia and eastern Europe. Usually browsing through the lists of places in Budapest and Warsaw yields limited excitement to the culinarily inclined but this year there is a one star entry for Prague (called Allegro), which must be the first ever starred restaurant in eastern Europe. Good for them.
Scandinavia seems a bit hard done by not to get a guide of its own. In Denmark there is the two star Noma in Copenhagen, and ten further one star places. In Helsinki there is a two star called Chez Dominique, and three one star places. In Sweden is the two star Edsbacka Krog, and six further one star places in Stockholm (and five more one star places in Gotheburg). Oslo has half a dozen one star places. Athens manages a two star in Spondi (a promotion this year), and a further three one star places. Dublin has the two star Patrick Guilbaud, and four further one stars.
Next week I am going off-piste (or at least off tube) again. After the swamps of Savannah last week I will venture to the wilds of Cheltenham, home of the Gloucester Old Spot pig.