The Grill on the Alley was my sanctuary. When I felt the world was being mean to me, I’d go there. It was always the perfect escape: the low lighting and the constant background hustle meant that you could hide in a booth and never fear being overheard as you whinged about the day. I was rarely disappointed by the food and only occasionally irked by the service.
I was very keen to choose a restaurant I liked for my first review, keen to prove I’m not just an old curmudgeon that tries to prove their critical abilities by finding fault. So I chose to play it safe. I chose my sanctuary. Unfortunately things are never that convenient. Best made plans they say… So, release the curmudgeon…
We visited for Saturday lunch. All seemed to be normal: low lighting, check; most tables occupied, check; general hustle and atmosphere, check.
As a pre-starter starter we ordered the warm baked loaf. This was intended to be a quick nibble but descended into a comedy of errors. The bread arrived and was placed in the middle of the table by a waiter who quickly scurried off. The bread was warm and was accompanied by salted butter, but unfortunately very little else. No plates, no knives and no obvious means of actually eating it. We sat patiently waiting for the accompanying implements to arrive. Eventually, we requested the missing tableware from a passing waiter who told us that he wasn’t allocated to our area but would find our waiter. He did, however, return a few minutes later with one knife and left it at the end of our table.
Our allocated waiter was polite, when dealing with us, but was often unavailable and others were reluctant to service tables outside of their area (even if they weren’t busy). Once we’d received the means to butter our bread, albeit one at a time, it was good. Unfortunately it was no longer warm and was interrupted by the arrival of our starters.
The garlic prawn starter was delicious. It was served in a mini frying-pan and consisted of shelled king prawns swimming in a rich oil with large slivers of garlic and a deep shellfish taste. Great! My partner had deep-fried calamari. The squid had a light non-greasy batter and was served with a lime, to squeeze, rather than the usual lemon.
I was mid my, “I’m not going to eat red meat for a month” phase and so it probably wasn’t a good time to visit a restaurant reputed for their steaks. This forced me to be more adventurous than my normal steak order and I chose the Moules Frites. I feel there is a lesson to be learnt here: don’t order something in a restaurant that you believe you cook well at home. There’s a certain faux modesty at play above. I don’t just believe it; I know I make darn good mussels. The mussels themselves were cooked well – and weren’t rubbery or slimy – but the sauce was bland. I found one slice of a shallot in the milky concoction whose seasoning amounted to one parsley leaf. Really disappointing.
My partner ordered the fillet steak with béarnaise sauce. He thought the steak was mediocre and that the hand-cut chips tasted like they had been kept warm for a long time.
Will I return to The Grill on the Alley? Probably not. I suspect I’ve lost my sanctuary. Maybe I should find another one, or maybe I should just stop looking for booths to whinge in…