Or Searcy's at The Commonwealth Club, or whatever else this venue may be calling itself.
I'm trying my best to remain polite as I write this, but apologies in advance if this post should deteriorate into a barely coherent rant - seldom has a dining experience left me so angry. Also, lest it be overlooked in the froth, let me state form the outset that the few staff we encountered here were very polite and clearly trying hard with limited tools. With those provisos out of the way, let's talk about the most frustrating meal I've had in London for some time.
Actually, let's not. Let's pause to identify the key issue here - Searcy's apparent belief that the level of staff training they provide to people working their station Champagne bars and museum canteens is appropriate for some vague approximation of fine dining.
The story starts a few months back when one of Keynoir's daily deals was a £50 Commonwealth Kitchen voucher for £25; not somewhere I was itching to visit, or had actually heard of, but close to Waterloo and a chance to try something different. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago; we called Commonwealth Kitchen and had no problem making reservations for this week.
From the first moment, things went badly. A pre-dinner drinks order included one gin martini, slightly more challenging than the standard G&T, but surely commonplace here on the borders of Soho and Westminster? Indeed, the restaurant clearly expects to serve them - it's an identified item within their till system, as evidenced by the receipt. From the table it was clear that the barman had no notion of where to start and the head waitress seemed to be staring in bafflement at what he'd created. Some minutes later we were asked if we'd like ice in the Martini, the negative response clearly unexpected.
Eventually, after we'd ordered food, the drinks appeared. The martini glass was, perhaps, a third full of warm gin with an olive floating in it. After a sip, we suggested to the head waitress that, on second thoughts, a gin and tonic would be perfectly fine and the offending drink was spirited away - only to return five minutes later. I'm going to guess that the enterprising staff had used some sort of smartphone to Google “martini” as the glass was now slightly fuller of cold, if watery, gin. It seemed only sporting to accept the drink after so much effort.
A complimentary amuse-bouche arrived soon after. It was fine, but we were never really sure what it was – I'd guess a small fillet of beef.
My starter was a duck terrine served with some inedible bakery product, curiously fashioned into a spear. The terrine itself was actually pretty tasty. Tasty enough to remind me of something I'd been served at Bar Boulud a few months ago; an unfortunate comparison to start making. A quick glance at Bar Boulud's online menu confirms that there isn't much of a price differential between the two venues – the “what on earth am I paying for” voices started drowning out all the other people living in my head.
The arrival of the main, beef fillet with blade of beef and braised white beans, almost provoked a stroke. It's hard to see from the poor quality photos, but the portion of fillet served was absurdly small. A shame really, because the rising bile ruined a pretty decent dish – the braised beans were excellent and, while the addition of the blade seemed unnecessary, it was a deliciously moreish morsel bulking out the meagre serving of fillet.
There was an inordinate delay between ordering dessert and it's actual appearance, something which the, again charming, head waitress apologised for with a complimentary round of dessert wine. When it arrived my eucalyptus parfait was a disappointment – not really tasting of anything and topped with a round of poor quality chocolate sponge. We'll not dwell on the £7 charged for the other half's plate of half a dozen strawberries.
Together with coffee, a bottle of water and one bottle of wine (£24), this meal topped £120. Booking through Kenynoir meant that I paid only £95.
I could run on for another five hundred words about the many ways that this evening angered me, pointing out the many better places I could have eaten for £60 a head. Instead I'll just say that Searcy's show utter contempt for their staff by not providing the training or support needed and complete disdain for their customers by charging what they do – the beef fillet, in particular, is an affront to decency.