If you can’t find some­thing you want here, then you shouldn’t be eat­ing out at all

This week: Mark Palmer vis­its The Forge, Lon­don WC2

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - The Back Page -

Mem­bers of the Gar­rick Club have some­thing new to look at from their up­stairs draw­ingroom in Covent Gar­den. Op­po­site is The Forge, an­other out­let from the stable of Robert Siegler, who runs Le Café du Jardin in nearby Welling­ton Street and Le Deux­ième on Long Acre.

Older mem­bers − in­deed, older read­ers of this news­pa­per − may re­mem­ber that 14 Gar­rick Street used to house a very de­cent restau­rant in the 1970s and early 80s called Inigo Jones, named af­ter the self-taught son of a Smith­field cloth­maker who rose to be­come sur­veyor-gen­eral of the King’s Works dur­ing the reign of James I. Jones was com­mis­sioned by the Duke of Bedford to de­sign what is now the Covent Gar­den Pi­azza to the rear of The Forge, which at one time must have been part of a church.

Some of its Gothic de­tail is still in place and Siegler has done a good job bright­en­ing it up while re­tain­ing its es­tab­lished, cosy at­mos­phere. The main room has a sil­ver tin ceil­ing and a lot of ex­posed brick­work. Sea-green up­hol­stered ban­quettes and chairs have a calm­ing in­flu­ence − and so do two glasses of Tait­tinger Cham­pagne (£10) that ar­rive within a cou­ple of min­utes of be­ing re­quested.

Our charm­ing Ir­ish wait­ress, how­ever, agrees with me that the wine list is ap­pallingly pre­sented. It comes in a black leather folder and is 14 pages long. The wines by the glass are way back on page 12.

I can’t quite make my mind up about a white from Bordeaux and she says: “You can have a lit­tle taste be­fore you com­mit, if you like.”

“What ev­ery man dreams of,” says Joanna − and we spend most of the next 90 min­utes dis­cussing the ter­rors and re­wards of com­mit­ment.

The Forge’s menu is laid out like those you get at The Ivy and at Marco Pierre White’s band of restau­rants − a sin­gle A3-size stiff card with, in this case, 19 starters at the top, seven pas­tas and risot­tos in the mid­dle and 23 main cour­ses be­low, along with no fewer than 16 side or­ders.

There’s ev­ery­thing from half a dozen Colch­ester oys­ters to eggs Bene­dict, as well as steak tartare, lob­ster, veni­son and chicken Kiev. If you can’t find some­thing you want to eat here, then you shouldn’t be eat­ing out at all.

Joanna has “sauté of tiger prawns and squid with co­rian­der, gar­lic, ginger and chilli” (£9.50) and I go for the “tem­pura of smoked had­dock with parsnip tab­bouleh, pea shoots and car­rot salad” (£7.50). When the food ar­rives, there’s a lot of tast­ing of each other’s choices be­fore we com­mit to our own. Both look very tempt­ing and are pret­tily pre­sented.

And both turn out to be highly sat­is­fac­tory. The prawns are sit­ting in a light dress­ing, along with tiny slices of red onion and grated car­rot. I might have reached for the Tabasco to spice up the prawns just a smidgeon if any had been to hand, but could think of noth­ing that might im­prove my three pieces of star­tlingly fresh had­dock cased in the thinnest of bat­ters and rolled into cir­cles the size of ping-pong balls.

When Joanna or­dered the £25 grilled Tbone steak (aged for 28 days, ac­cord­ing to the menu), the wait­ress said: “I like your style.” We took this to be a warn­ing about the size of what was on its way. But, when the T-bone ar­rives (pic­tured above), it’s the qual­ity, not the quan­tity, that takes us by sur­prise, so much so that we want to know where this juicy, ten­der flavour­some cow comes from.

For­tu­nately, the chef, Andy Bar­ber (pic­tured) − who un­til re­cently worked at the Rex Whistler restau­rant in the Tate Bri­tain gallery − does a quick tour through the restau­rant and I get a chance to ask him. He tells me that most of the beef on the menu is reared on a farm near Ap­ple­ton in Ox­ford­shire. I like it when a chef does a fly-past, just as long as he isn’t fish­ing for praise too ob­vi­ously. Bar­ber doesn’t seem to be fish­ing at all.

I have “veal Hol­stein with a fried quail’s egg” (£15) as my main course. The only place I have had such good veal Hol­stein is the San Domenico Palace Ho­tel in Taormina, Si­cily. It’s ac­com­pa­nied by ca­pers, an­chovies, pars­ley; and the veal has just enough Parme­san coated on it to en­sure a crusty top.

We also or­dered “real chips”, which strikes me as a rel­a­tively new de­scrip­tion of fried pota­toes. What it means is that the chips are thick and that you get quite a lot of potato − prob­a­bly much bet­ter for you than thin chips, but noth­ing like as re­ward­ing.

The af­ter-theatre crowd (last or­ders at mid­night) is trick­ling in as we scan the pud­ding op­tions. There are 10 of them, all at a rea­son­able £6, with “Bri­tish and French cheeses” at an un­rea­son­able £2.25 per piece. Af­ter those guilt­less “real chips” we de­cide that we de­serve a plate of “sticky tof­fee pud­ding with but­ter­scotch sauce and vanilla ice cream” − and have no re­grets.

By the time we leave at 11.30, the restau­rant is busier than it was ear­lier in the evening. I won­der how long it will be be­fore mem­bers of the Gar­rick are tempted to ven­ture across the road to sam­ple what The Forge has to of­fer.

The Forge, 14 Gar­rick Street, (en­trance on Flo­ral Street), Lon­don WC2 (020 7379 1432). Din­ner for two, in­clud­ing wine and ser­vice, £85.

Mark’s ver­dict: 7/10

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