29 February 2012
Bermondsey Square Hotel,
Tower Bridge Road, SE1 3UN
0207 378 2456
By Michael Holland
In a week when I have been trying hard not to get robbed by slick-talking car dealers who almost had me signing up for a car I didn’t want or could afford, I needed something down-to-earth and honest, and I found that in Gregg’s Table, the latest venture of Masterchef’s Gregg Wallace.
Stepping straight into the shoes of Alfie’s in Bermondsey Square it initially looks like there has been no change, then you start seeing the little touches that highlight that Gregg’s wants us to reminisce about mum’s cooking and yearn for the comfort food of old. A display of Tate & Lyle’s Golden Syrup, salad cream, Camp Coffee, Marmite and Alphabetti Spaghetti brings back memories of when teatime was a family affair.
The menu, too, contains many of the old family favourites, such as Welsh Rarebit and Boiled Beef and Carrots. Wallace himself adds a short foreword to the menu, telling us that he grew up in Bermondsey in the 70s and that he hopes the menu combines ‘the style of platform shoes with the taste of my childhood’.
I went along with Kay, an old friend whose own down-to-earth honesty has got me through some dire situations in the past and had me laughing out loud in recent times. As the designated driver, she had a Coke while I was lured into a Sauvignon Blanc, which was fruity and refreshing.
Kay’s first words when seeing the food choices were, ‘Oooh, this is good,’ before diving straight in for the Spam Fritters, then telling me of a fish shop near Guy’s Hospital that sell spam fritters and where she stops to buy some whenever she is in the area. I suspect, though, that Gregg’s spam fritters will be different from the chip shop ones… My eye was caught by the Mulligatawny Soup, something that I had completely forgotten existed.
The fritters came with a home-made piccalilli that added a sharp bite to the dish. I found the beer batter a little soggy and greasy, but isn’t that how we had it back then?
The ham hock inside, though, was of the highest quality, full of taste and with a solid texture. The Mulligatawny was served in its own Thermos flask and was poured around a mound of flaked chicken and came with small, crispy onion bhaji. It was a thick, lightly spiced broth that reminded me of Chinese chip shop curry, and that was a good thing.
We were there on the quiet soft opening week before the stampede of the official opening, as the cast and crew, of what will obviously be a performance place due to Wallace’s celebrity, rehearsed their roles for the long run ahead. As it was quiet we had a lot of staff looking after our needs, so we felt a bit special. I hope the same level of service can be maintained when the restaurant is brimming.
The main courses arrived just as Kay was telling me about a planned naughty weekend in the Cotswolds. I had gone for the Fish Fingers with Chips and Mushy Peas because that dish is always good, but even I was surprised when it landed on the table.
The fingers had been nowhere a big-bearded sea captain or a box, and must have been modelled on the fingers of David Haye; they were fat and round and the crispiest breadcrumbed exterior gave way to a virgin white, flaky fish interior. I was hoping for hand-cut, home-made chips but the fries were good even if they did look like fast food fare.
Kay’s Beef Stroganoff looked quite boring against mine but she said the beef was succulent – which is the important part - and wasted no time in polishing it all off.
Silvio, who seemed to be in charge, came over to chat about the plans for the restaurant and how he was looking forward to helping make a success of it; he told us about the bosses’ food suppliers and how the menu may change over time. After a while he left us to enjoy our desserts, which were Knickerbocker Glory for me and Tropical Fruit Cocktail for Kay.
I remember my first Knickerbocker Glory as a small child, having to look up to it towering above the mini-me as I sat at the table. Now I rise above it and look down but the experience of the taste surprises that come as you reach each layer was just as good as I recall. Kay’s fruit cocktail, though, was a masterwork of nostalgic recreation.
Just as I remember arguing with my brother over who had the one cherry in the old tins of fruit cocktail that would appear on Sundays, her dessert of chunks of fresh fruit was served in a tin with a jug of Carnation Milk alongside! How brilliant is that? Kay loved it, although I don’t think she got the 1970s connection of the tin and the Carnation Milk with the fruit salad, being just a baby at the time.
Gregg’s Table is new and is opening with new ideas on an old theme. They will be doing Sunday lunches and Brunches, and I hope it goes well as everyone loves a ‘local boy makes good’ story.
Mulligatawny Soup £5.50
Spam Fritters £6.25
Fish Fingers £12.50
Beef Stroganoff £13.50
Coke x 2 £5.00
Still Water £3.20
Blanc x 2 £15.00
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