High expectations is never good to have, I know that. Yet, I didn’t expect much as I made dinner reservations at 86, the newly refurbished Georgian townhouse on Fulham Road, that took over from the not-so-hip Cactus Blue. It’s a glamorous space with perspex chairs, theatrical light bulbs lining the walls and gilded mirrors crowning the ceiling. The bar on the ground floor is incredibly popular with people spilling out on the streets almost every time I walk past. I’ve had a sneaky drink there myself and can vouch for that the quality is good.
The restaurant however, is not.
86’s chef, Mark Broadbent, hails from Bluebird and the British seasonal menu is inviting and has streaks of fresh Mediterranean cooking. What we ordered was very good, in fact it was so good that I would definitely go back hadn’t it been for the service.
For starters I ordered the scallop ceviche with avocado, lime and tomato salsa which was citrusy and rather nice if only a bit garlicky. The presentation was symmetrically pleasing with the colourful scallop symphony laid out on sea shells. Very appetising. My rack of lamb, placed on a wooden board looked rustic and very masculine. Nothing negative in that. It was also perfectly pink and juicy.
However, since I didn’t want Jersey Royals and changed it to spinach instead, it seemed that they assumed I didn’t want any peas, broad beans or mint either. A rathan spartan meal, but since we’d waited around 40 minutes to get our mains (and after I made an enquiry whether the food was coming or not), I couldn’t be bothered complaining.
My dinner date, who ordered a rather dry beef carpaccio (lacking in olive oil but not taste) and a Veal Milanese (which didn’t look special, but was still of satisfaction) suddenly said “we’re drinking tap water”. “Don’t be silly”, I replied, “the waitress asked if we wanted still or sparkling water, why would she give us tap water”. When the bill came they hadn’t charged us for the water. Tap water indeed. Lime scale with my lime-flavoured ceviche.
What else was wrong? What am I complaining about? First of all, our table wasn’t ready although the restaurant was seemingly half full and we turned up at 9.30 – not exactly a restaurant’s rush hour. Our waitress acted like it was her first day at work (and maybe it was), and failed to instill any sort of confidence. Our orders were late, we were served tap water, the wine was uninspiring and at certain times it felt like the restaurant lacked serving staff altogether.
For a restaurant of 86’s calibre, you would expect more. They staff is too young and feel more like students financing their degrees than embarking on an exciting restaurant career. It’s a pity, because the food is very good and the interior is delightfully decadent.
I might have caught them on an off-guard night. Fair enough, it’s hard to judge a restaurant after just one visit. The problem is however, that there are so many exciting restaurants in London that if one fails, you opt for another concept next time.
Food-wise 86 is sparkling, drink-wise it’s bubbling – other elements are just plain still.