Ondine is a seafood restaurant that opened in September 2009, and proudly lists on its website some of the suppliers that it works with, getting its fish from Devon to the Shetlands. Roy Brett is the chef/owner. Prior to his own venture here he had worked for almost two decades at Scottish Dakota hotels as chef/director, and once worked with Rick Stein. The menu ranges from fish and chips through to more ambitious fare, and there is a separate oyster bar. Around eighty customers can be seated at full capacity. On this Monday evening it was packed.
The wine list was quite extensive. Sample labels were the lovely and great value Villa Wolf Dry Riesling from Pfalz at £31 for a bottle that you can find on the high street for around £12, Rioja Bodegas Altanza Crianza 2013 at £41 compared to its retail price of £11, and Chateau Manoir de Gay Pomerol 2012 at a chunky £84 for a wine that will set you back £19 in a shop. There were a few posher bottles too, such as Margaux Cantenac Brown 2007 at a hefty £180 for a wine whose current market value is £58.
The dining room is one floor up (above a Pizza Express) and looks out over the George IV bridge. It is smart and modern, with black and white prints of some of the restaurant staff on the walls, and a central oyster bar around which the tables are arrayed. Hard surfaces make for a distinctly noisy room (a peak of a troubling 136 decibels this evening, with average levels around a still high 110 decibels). A couple of gougeres made with Gruyere cheese began the meal, the choux pastry light and the cheese flavour a touch subtle to my taste, but nonetheless very good gougeres (15/20).
Squid tempura was excellent, featuring non-chewy squid, a quite light tempura batter, red chillies and a good quality lime that nicely provided balancing acidity. It was a touch salty though personally I don't mind that (15/20). Potted brown crab from Dunbar was served in a little glass jar, the white meat topped with brown crab meat made into a polonaise sauce (literally "Polish style" with egg, butter, parsley and breadcrumbs) and crab mayonaisse, and served with warm miniature crumpets on the side. The crab was palpably fresh and the sauce nicely balanced (14/20). A salad of beetroot and goat cheese was pleasant and quite pretty (14/20).
Haddock and chips were excellent, the fish having good flavour, the batter light, golden and crisp. The chips were thin and also crisp, and the fish came with pleasant minted mushy peas and decent tartare sauce (though the latter was better the night before at Scran and Scallie). Still, this was a most enjoyable fish and chips, which leaves me ever more bewildered as to why London seems incapable of producing anything of this quality. It is not as if haddock is unobtainable in London, or that deep-frying is an unfathomably complex technique, and yet this fish and chips trounced anything I have encountered in the UK's capital in recent years (easily 14/20). Wild sea bass from Cornwall came with girolles, celeriac purée and puy lentils. The fish had good flavour and was accurately cooked, the accompaniments harmonious and also well prepared (15/20).
Crema Catalana, essentially a Spanish take on creme brûlée, had good texture and was light and delicate. It came with brambles, honeycomb and bramble jam, the fruit providing some balance to the richness (13/20). I was in the mood for a plate of cheese, which tonight was a selection of British cheeses in nice condition.
The staff were charming, with drinks carefully topped up and no trouble getting attention if it was needed. The bill came to £69 a head with a pleasant bottle of wine and a glass of dessert wine, which seemed to me very fair given the quality of the cooking and the produce used. The food tonight was on the border between 14/20 and 15/20, and the overall experience was most enjoyable. No wonder the place was so busy.
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