For my birthday in June, I wanted to eat at Joe Allen restaurant in Covent Garden. The reason for this was because of a Jay Rayner review in the Observer – I like his reviews anyway, and have been rewarded by following his previous recommendations, including Mishkins. I also love Marina O’Loughlin’s reviews in the Guardian, and she has rarely let me down either. I would probably love Giles Coren’s reviews, but I am too tight to pay for the Times’ paywall. I did buy his book though, which was very funny.
Andrew ended up being ill and we had to cancel my birthday dinner, so I re-booked it for last week. I dribbled over the menu all day at work (the perils of dieting – I was starving myself so that I could enjoy every mouthful of dinner), debating whether to have the famous burger … the one item not actually on the menu … or a big fat juicy steak. I was having a bit of a crave on for red meat, clearly.
So we started off at a local bar for pre-dinner drinks. Another problem with dieting is that I have become a total alcohol light-weight, so I was feeling tipsy after one large glass of rose in the sunshine. I didn’t let that stop me though, and had my second (large) glass before we headed on to Joe Allen to mange, mange, mange.
Joe Allen is in the middle of the theatre district of Covent Garden and as it’s in a basement (lovely and cool after the summer sun), you need to know where you are going as the restaurant is easy to walk past. We followed our noses and headed straight down there – shown to our table (just past the pianist, who appeared to be having a snooze at the piano as we arrived!) by friendly staff.
The walls are covered in theatre pictures, posters and promotional shots of actors. It’s dark but pleasant, and the tables aren’t too close together (a pet hate of mine), and the large basement is not too noisy either. The staff are friendly, but our waitress kept missing us – not sure if that’s because she was so busy or we were awkwardly positioned behind a pillar. It was fine, but we did have to keep catching her attention when we wanted to order.
As I was quite literally starving, we ordered some sourdough to munch on while we were waiting – it was delicious but came with normal baguette as well, and we would have been happier with a full portion of sourdough as the menu suggested.
For my starter I had crispy squid with chipotle mayo and Andrew had chopped liver with pickles. When my quid arrived it looked just like pub-style calamari, but actually it had very light and crisp batter with tender squid inside, and was delicious. The mayo had a lovely light smoky flavour. Andrew’s chopped liver was a huge portion and very tasty … although I agree with Jay Rayner that it’s nicer in Mishkins.
For main courses we both had medium-rare sirloin steak with fries – mine was 190g with bearnaise, Andrew’s 300g with chipotle hollandaise. Disappointingly, mine was a thin-cut steak (which it didn’t say on the menu) and it was cooked medium rather than medium rare, and wasn’t especially juicy. The chips were gorgeous, but the bearnaise was too sharp for my liking. Andrew’s thick steak was much better, but his chipotle hollandaise was completely inedible as it was so spicy.
For pudding I ordered chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and Andrew ordered strawberry jelly with peanut ice cream. We asked to have the ice creams swapped over, although they left the pot of roasted peanuts on Andrew’s plate (I soon swiped them). My peanut ice cream was as delicious as I had hoped, and the brownie was nice – my homemade ones are nicer though. Andrew’s jelly tasted like sweet jam (Bonne Mamam to be honest) and had a solid texture like quince jelly, which wasn’t great.
Overall Joe Allen didn’t have the wow factor for us. Perhaps we chose poorly – I had been tempted by the crab cakes and they could have been a better option. The cocktails were average but the selection of wines were good, and we chose a nice rioja to have with dinner. The bill including service was £120, which felt over-priced for what we had.
I would like to try the crab cakes and famous burger, but I didn’t enjoy Joe Allen enough to bother going back. If you go, let me know if it is worth a second trip!
Note: excuse the poor quality pictures – I didn’t want to use my flash and disturb other diners, so as a consequence they are rubbish!