The meal at Odette’s tonight was worryingly worse than my meal here two years ago. The room’s lighting in the evening is absurdly gloomy; everyone was peering at the menu and wine list through the gloom, and I eventually resorted to using a small torch that I have found invaluable on such occasions. An amuse-bouche of beetroot soup with an unidentified foam managed to be part cold and part lukewarm, which is rarely a good combination for a dish (12/20). Soup proper of butternut squash soup with Parmesan had good flavour, but arrived almost cold, so clearly no-one was paying an attention on the pass. When warmed up it was very nice indeed, with plenty of flavour and good seasoning (15/20). Honey-soused sardines were served with a very acidic grapefruit dressing, with some pleasant sardine parfait served on the side. I understand what the chef was trying to do with the concept, getting the acidity of the grapefruit to balance the oiliness of the sardines, but the dressing was way too acidic and entirely dominated the dish (12/20). Also, one and a half sardines seemed pretty mean for a £9.95 starter; excessive portion control seemed a feature, as the scallops tarter on the next table had just two tiny scallops for a £12.95 starter.
My main course of roast venison (£21.95) was cooked nicely pink, but was served with an inedible tatin of shallots with rock-hard pastry, some pleasant Savoy cabbage and, bizarrely, a lump of chocolate mousse dumped on one of the pieces of venison. I had assumed when the menu mentioned chocolate that it would be used to thicken the sauce, which is a common enough practice. Just why chef Bryn Williams thinks that the perfect accompaniment for venison is a slab of chocolate mousse is beyond me (14/20 if I ignore the chocolate absurdity). My wife’s pan-fried halibut was correctly cooked, served with carrots and a carrot puree, but also with an utterly repulsive braised baby gem lettuce, which was just a massively over-cooked slimy leaf lurking in wait on the side of the plate (13/20 if I ignore the lettuce).
Last time desserts were the weak link of the meal, but tonight a chocolate fondant flavoured with orange, with a mandarin sorbet was actually very good, with a properly liquid centre and made from good quality chocolate (15/20). Service was disappointing: the wine topping up consisted of the waiter trying to pour about a third of a bottle into each of our glasses, then leaving an empty glass for some time before coming back and slopping the rest of the contents into the glasses. One bottle: two pours and a gap, nothing if not economic on effort; why not just use a slightly bigger glass and pour a half bottle into each and be done with it? At the beginning of the meal they asked us whether there was anything we did not eat, and my wife said “beetroot” (some childhood school dinner memory terror that she has). Shortly afterwards an amuse-bouche arrived: beetroot soup. Not only was there no alternative offered (and bear in mind that they had another soup on the menu, so how hard would it have been to offer this?) but there was not even a hint of an apology. In general I found the waiting staff that we encountered fairly sullen.
Quite apart from the up and down meal and the poor service, you also have to look at the prices: starters £8.95 - £12.95, mains £16.95 - £21.95, desserts £8.95 - £12.95) mean that you are up at the same level as somewhere like Michelin-starred La Trompette. This is a shame, as north London is badly in need of more good restaurants, but I will be in no hurry to return after this experience.
Below are my notes from a much better November 2007 meal.
The dining room is quite cosy, with rather busy wallpaper and a patterned blue carpet. Assorted side lamps provided a warm if somewhat erratic light. The menu was of British classics and has an appealing line-up of dishes. There was also a full vegetarian menu ; two courses were £35, three courses £40. The wine list had a reasonable selection of French wines and skims the rest of the world, with a few selections each from other countries. You will not find many big name producers here, but the mark-ups were tolerable by London standards e.g. Spy Valley Pinot Noir was listed at £32 (£10.17 retail). Bread was from the Bread Factory: either white brown, olive or onion. The olive bread had good texture but had little olive taste, but the onion bread was fine (15/20).
An amuse-bouche arrived, a glass of soup. This was confidently presented as “sweetcorn soup” but was clearly no such thing; it was in fact a very nice wild mushroom soup, with good flavour (15/20). A starter of hand-dived scallops came with artful smears of butternut puree, chestnut and apple. The scallops had been sliced and then pan-fried and were of good quality, but were cooked just a little too long (14/20) but the puree had an enjoyable intensity to it. Pumpkin and Parmesan soup was better, with Parmesan gnocchi and a few wild mushrooms at the base of the soup bowl. The soup had excellent taste, with plenty of pumpkin flavour and good seasoning (15/20).
My main course was loin of venison, roasted medium rare and served on a bed of good braised red cabbage. A parsnip puree gave an enjoyable earthy note to the dish, a few glazed chestnuts added a texture contrast and there was a reduction of the cooking juices poured on at the table. The venison was very good and the components of the dish worked together well (16/20). Ravioli of sweet corn had pasta with reasonable texture (perhaps a fraction firm) served with pine nuts and raisins, and was prettily presented (14/20).
For dessert my lemon tart had pastry that was just a fraction hard, and filling that for me was slightly too acidic, but it was pleasant enough (14/20). However a chocolate fondant had been overcooked so that there was virtually no liquid centre. It is a shame to waste lovely Valrhona chocolate with a basic technical error (12/20). This was served with marshmallow and coconut ice cream. We skipped coffee (which did not smell that great as some wafted past). Service was quite good, seeming genuinely friendly. Overall I found this to be on the border between 14/20 and 15/20.