Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Admiralty, Somerset House

A cold Monday night in deep mid-winter is probably not the busiest time for any restaurant and on our visit to the Admiralty only 2 or 3 other tables were occupied. Three sides of the room were lined a leather-style banquette in a vibrant turquoise colour. Across white clothed tables, it was faced by equally turquoise chairs. In a very brightly lit room (it was pitch-black outside), this creates an atmosphere more suited to business lunches than romantic dinners and serves to highlight the unoccupied status of most tables. Aside from some spectacular ship-shaped chandeliers, the room was definitely a thumbs-down. The menu, in matching turquoise, is surprisingly reasonable with starters for £6.50 and mains for £12.50, and around six choices for each. The turquoise wine list runs to two pages, at least a third of it taken up with champagne and premium bottles in the £50+ range. On the more affordable side things start at £18, and though the mark ups are high and the range is conventional, it is all perfectly drinkable :-)
In restaurants, I tend to order interesting sounding things. But the started of snail gratin had me completely baffled. A large ramekin was filled with those tiny little white onions that are usually pickled (though luckily this time were not), drowned in a strange mix of tomato pure and bread crumbs with a few lardons for good measure. Hiding inside were a few juicy snails. "Hmmm... interesting..," said my companion. He was being kind. The dish was somewhat redeemed though by a big piece of lusciously cheesy wafer type thing (which didn't go at all, but was yummy on its own). We also sampled a pale pink salmon and scallop terrine which was just terribly bland. The mains took their time to arrive, leaving the waiters plenty of time to ply us with wine at a dangerous frequency. But they did reluctantly provide some non-bottled water and voluntarily refilled that too. When they did arrive, the mains were a huge improvement on the starters. The wing of skate came was beautifully buttery atop of some rather interesting fennel. My gnocchi were huge and clearly home made. They were a touch sweet but this was more than made up for by the huge pile of delicious wild mushrooms, a beautifully cooked quail egg and a little hill of refreshing tomato salad on the side. So we left filled up and happy, with only a modest dent to the pocket. But given the stunning location inside Somerset House, the Admiralty could -- should -- be much better, both in food and in decor.

The Admiralty, Somerset House, The Strand, WC2R 1LA; Tel: 020 7845 4600; Tube: Temple www.somersethouse.org.uk

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