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27 December 2006

The Reindeer

It is questionable whether a write-up about a restaurant that has now shut its doors for good, or at least for a year, is a timely one.  I suppose at best it is useful for posterity.

It is also questionable whether a write-up based on a meal on the last night of a now closed restaurant is useful at all.  It is generally considered bad form to review a restaurant in its first couple of weeks because they are only just getting into their stride (viz St Alban's soft soft opening compared to its soft opening) and should be ironing out some cracks.

So where does that leave me writing about my meal at The Reindeer on its last night of operation?  Again, there might be some value in it for posterity and my own vanity.  I can say, "I was there" if it turns out that is important.  Silverbrowess and our friends the Newlyweds, are also able to make that claim.

The Reindeer received a lot of interest recently for two reasons: it is hip and like all things hip, it is fleeting.  It was opened by the team behind Bistrotheque, and was only open for the month of December.  And even that was truncated: 1 December - 23 December.  I understand that they might repeat the experiment next year in New York and so on around the world.  If they do, I am not sure whether I will bother becoming a Reindeer groupie, other than for the benefit of saying "I was there."  I am unsure where Silverbrowess and the Bythennotsonewlyweds will stand on the matter.

The food was very good, especially given the high risk that the theatre of the restaurant risked overshadowing what was put on the plate.  I have not eaten at Bistrotheque but clearly from the respective menus (The Reindeer, Bistrotheque) the food is of a type.  However, we were told that none of the staff, either front of house or in the kitchen are the same.  The owners were explicit they wanted separate ventures.

Rather disappointingly for this write-up, the breadth of dishes around the table was limited.  Me and Mrs Newlywed both started with a very tasty celeriac and black truffle soup.  White truffles are usually the superior model (and nearing the end of their season) but the soup was excellent.  It was rich, with distinctive nutty, earthy flavours.  I don't think that truffle oil was added, but if it was, it was decent stuff, not the over chemicalised slick too often glugged by chefs trying to impress.  Silverbrowess opted for a roquefort, walnut, pousse and orange salad, which she said was good, Mr Newlywed had a similar verdict on his smoked salmon.  For those wondering, pousse is a type of spinach.

For mains, me and Mrs Newlywed both had the veggie option of a pithivier of roast veg with sprout tops, camembert and chestnuts.  This was an exceptional dish.  I fall into the lazy school of sprout haters, but combined with pungent camembert and sweet chestnuts, the almost sweet sprout tops (tasting not too different from turnip tops) were the highlight of the night.  Chestnuts and sprouts are a fairly traditional Christmas dish, adding Camembert to it, lifted it above the normal dross doled out on December 25th.

Silverbrowess and Mr Newlywed both opted for the poached trout, wilted spinach, caper and lemon butter.  Again, both deemed it very nice.  It didn't blow my socks off but was a solid dish with strong flavours.  The trout was beautifully cooked, with the skin glistening.  The flesh yielded to the fork in dense white flakes.  Desserts were similarly well accomplished, helped by the demob happy staff who were happy to chuck comped dishes and drinks our way all night.  My favourite was the bread and butter pudding, easy to do well but so often cocked-up.

This was a very enjoyable meal, the food was good and the service was excellent.  There was a real sense of it being the end of term for the staff.  From what they were saying, Christmas would be a well deserved rest.  Our waiter told us they were notching up fifteen hour days, I heard a waitress say that in two weeks she had worked over 200 hours.  Clearly they have not heard of the Working Time Directive.  However, despite a relaxed air and shattered staff, service was excellent.  I was a bit disappointed at the number of dishes off the menu, especially the wild mushroom and champagne risotto and the four of the twenty reds all dried up.  But given the place was only open for a month and this was the last night, it could have been worse.

It is irrelevant to say whether I would go back again but I will say that if they do move to New York next year, I would strongly suggest that for some fun and decent food you go along.  It will not be an astounding meal, there is no point Frank Bruni reviewing it, but it will be a very good meal, you will enjoy your meal and more importantly, the evening.  Does anyone really want much more from a restaurant?

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