I had been looking forward to dinner at The Ladbroke Arms. Over the summer, while we were living in our house on the same road, we’d visited often. Mostly for drinks, occasionally for supper. It’s an attractive pretty pub, somewhat off the beaten track, on this quiet residential street. I’d eaten well here previously and enjoyed the lively atmosphere, the mostly youngish, trendyish local crowd, the flower filled hanging baskets in the small streetside seating area, the retro glass water vats with cucumber and lime, the cosy bar and the friendly service. It’s the sort of place I happily recommended to visitors from abroad who sought a typical Notting Hill experience and wanted to retrace the steps of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in the famous 1999 film of the same name, without the tourist crowds of nearby Portobello Road.
But then Christmas got in the way….
Anyone who knows me, is well aware that the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future completely bypass me, every year anew. The schmaltz, the kitsch, the excess, the lemming rush to buy presents, the naff paper crowns and the dropping, drooping, bebaubled tree, the artificial spirit of love which wanes rapidly by Boxing Day, and which never seems to include those that are in greatest need of it. I get through it every year with clenched teeth. Sure, I love the family gathering, but mine is a Martini family, I love them any time, any place, anywhere.
I was already slightly miffed that, on booking our table, we were asked to pay a deposit. Whatever was that all about? This is hardly one of those major gourmet palaces that requires table securing eons in advance. The reason soon became clear. Almost every table was taken up by merrymaking Christmas parties, those once yearly corporate occasions when employers and employees get drunk together and affect a few hours of friendship (and sometimes, cringingly, more). Ours was probably the only table for two, stuck in a small draughty corner, and we were by far the most sober at 7.30 in the evening.
The menu is an ambitious one and promised culinary delights. Our shared starter of Grilled Fillet of Plaice, Bhaji, Cauliflower and Coconut, however, was quite possibly the most peculiar dish I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten some strange things in my time, believe me! It sounded exotic and interesting, but the reality was a piece of reasonably nicely done fish, sitting in some kind of pointless milky froth and topped by something that looked as though the cat had dragged it in, some kind of crispy turdlet purporting to be an onion bhaji. Seriously?? Where exactly the cauliflower and the coconut came in, was a mystery to me too, but let’s just say, this was not a particularly successful combination of texture and taste, not to mention the complete and utter irrelevance of the individual components to one another. My main course of Artichoke Risotto, Confit Portobello Mushrooms and Candied Hazelnuts was spectacularly unappetizing looking, and tasted like a savoury rice pudding, perfectly acceptable if you’d left your dentures at home. Being in possession of most of my teeth, I was just so grateful that it didn’t taste anything like it looked that I almost enjoyed it. Almost.
The Lovely Husband had gone fishy again, choosing Roasted Cod, Chickpeas, Anchovies, Sun Blushed Tomato, Basil, Fennel and Broccoli. The portion was just about adequate but not overly generous, heavy on the chickpeas, devoid of anchovies and with miniature broccoli florets only barely in evidence. Again the fish was cooked well, but the dish overall was sorely lacking in any any personality whatsoever.
Now doughnuts, here we’re talking! Whether round or ring, whether iced or sugared, whether jam filled or plain, I am a major fan. So the Limoncello Crème Brûlee with Cinnamon Doughnuts had my name written all over it. Rather than sharing a dessert as we usually do, the Lovely Husband chose the Treacle Tart with Clotted Cream. It is Christmas after all, and over-indulgence is part of the package. Shock, horror, the mini donuts were not fresh or beautifully spongey as they should be, oh no! Rolling about on the gritty glaze of the thick pastelike and entirely flavourless crème, were the shrivelled testicles of a very old man. Santa may have left his cojones behind, but it seems that he made off with the treacle tart. Without explanation, we were served with pecan pie, graced with just about a thimbleful of clotted cream which someone had laboriously squeezed through an icing nozzle.
This was a meal uncompromisingly beige in looks, taste, texture and character.To add insult to injury, and pain to the calories, the bill came to a whopping £91.58, including a bottle of wine, coffee and service charge. The wine was excellent though.
The Ladbroke Arms, 54 Ladbroke Road, London W11 3NW, Tel.: 020 7727 6648, www.ladbrokearms.com
What I wore
Blue jeans by Zu+ Elements, pale blue Tommy Hilfiger shirt, black Zadie and Voltaire jacket with glittery wings on back, Hermes belt, black flat boots, handpainted Boyarde Messenger Hermes Birkin bag.
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