Sunday, 5 September 2010
If any restaurant symbolises the "meh" factor in your average London dining establishment, it's Kettner's. In its current form, it wouldn't last a week in New York.
Kettner's holds a prime position on the corner of Greek and Romilly streets in Soho, just off Old Compton Street. Large windows capture the street scenes and the sunlight, and there's ample foundations to capture some charm. Trouble is, despite all this, it still somehow lacks character. Where's the buzz?
The menu reads well - all standard bistro fare and there's plenty on it I want to eat. But, while the way it's cooked is mostly alright, it's never spot on - no dish leaves us completely satisfied.
We've been twice now. The beef bourguignon looks the part in a classic pot, rich dark sauce, with carrots and potatoes in the mix (£16). It comes highly recommended by our waiter as what Kettner's does best. But the accompanying mash is watery and tasteless. I love mash. Mash is important. Get the mash right, people.
The free range corn fed chicken with tarragon jus is lovely (£15) - moist and flavourful - but the accompanying vegetables are (again) completely devoid of taste and are overcooked. The pretty looking potato gratin is also a mouthful of nothingness.
Our "simple salad" arrives undressed and is fairly unexciting. Simple indeed.
The 31 day Angus Pole Cross sirloin steak is cooked as ordered to medium rare, but lacks caramelisation and flavour (£18.50, 7oz). The house cut crispy chips and bearnaise are decent.
The duck confit with Sarladaise potatoes and rosemary jus (£14) was enjoyable, a fish soup starter all loveliness (£7) and desserts - strawberry pavlova and strawberry tart with creme chantilly - almost as good as they looked (£6 each).
The thing is, Kettner's should be something more. It's a place with history and prime location. The interior design was given a facelift a couple of years ago courtesy of designer Ilse Crawford. While I don't mind the shabby chic/rococo look on our first visit, in the cold hard light of our return trip, it's looking a bit tired and charmless. Perhaps its former decor - darker and leather clad - was more appropriate.
Service is reasonably helpful and friendly. Prices range from around £5 - £7 for starters, £11.50 - £21.50 for mains and £6 - £8 for desserts. Fair enough pricing, if only the consistency was there.
This is a restaurant gasping for some CPR. In its heyday, Kettner's was a haven for inexpensive but popular pizza and wine; a place to gather and meet over good, simple food - without spending a fortune. Somewhere along the line, it lost its way without even doing too much wrong. The problem is, it doesn't do enough right.
Kettner's, 29 Romilly Street, Soho, London W1D 5HP (Tel: 020 7734 6112)