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Restaurant Review: Ben Greeno at (Nuno Mendes’) The Loft

This review starts by asking a question no one has bothered asking yet but is a fairly fundamental one.  Why read my reviews?  Well, the answer starts out simple but rambles a bit.

I have no financial interest in anything I review.  I blog because I enjoy it.  I have never been offered, accepted or asked for something free. I have no desire to set up an Underground Restaurant or a Supper Club because I have no desire to ever be judged by people such as me.  I have nothing to parcel, nothing to market, nothing I am personally invested in and no-one I feel compelled to talk up.  This blog is not and will not be monetised.  My industry and future is as far separated from the world of food as it is possible to be.

I do a job that comes with its strictures but has enabled me to travel widely in my free time.  For me to travel is to eat and to eat is to try everything from raw pig’s nose with gristle and hair on it with a slice of lemon in Southern Italy to chicken sashimi in Japan.  From so cheap it is nearly free in Cambodia to euro poppingly expensive in Paris.  From a dedication to trying (and failing) to get food poisoning from street food in Vietnam to alfresco dinning in 13th century forts in Italy.  Backstreet churrascarias in Brazil and plain quinoa 4000 metres up on the salt flats in Bolivia.

This is not a new focus for me. I have lived for thirty years in London and was from the age of six being driven to illegal Turkish restaurants in car parks in North London and trying my first sashimi in Hammersmith. If I hunt obsessively for the next great meal my father is the genesis of it.

You may now ask why the hell is this relevant to Ben Greeno at The Loft?  Again the answer is simple but rambles a bit.  The reason is it was a bit dull on the night we went and this was dull for £117.  This is not me being naive, controversial or competitive.  This is an honest appraisal and one that comes with context.  I have visited The Loft before and loved it (review here).  Nuno Mendes managed the role of being a host and chef perfectly.  The food was interesting (and this didn’t always equate to being enjoyable) and was, overall, fantastic.  Ben Greeno’s efforts didn’t reach these heights or what I have eaten before generally in haute cuisine. (I wish I could find a blog post of someone I really admire who went to El Bulli and was very honest and, overall, disappointed with it but it feels like the most realistic grounded review of El Bulli that I have ever read – that is somehow what I trying to convey here – EDIT – thanks to Helen the link is here (Cheese and Biscuits apparently)).

Where there was success was in the prettiness factor.  It was edible art of the highest variety.  But this is irrelevant when to taste some of the dishes were insubstantial stuff.  Where it didn’t succeed was in those dishes which didn’t tempt or challenge but sat there with one consituent overwhelming the other or with no “wow” factor.

The best two dishes for me (and they were fantastic) were what I would call a “deconstructed carbonara” which was a cheese soup with potatoes instead of pasta and a meringue pudding broken out into its constituent parts with a seabuckthorn (no I had never heard of it before) curd.  They were great and showed promise.  The rest I won’t mention apart from a heather baked celeriac dish which was a noxious mess.  Still, those two dishes were the kind of dishes that with a few more years under his belt would speak to an altogether different experience – a fully rounded meal where each dish reaches those heights.

One of the big problems with this meal is that earlier that week I went to a supper club called Trail of Our Bread (review to follow) that was simply brilliant.  It offered fun, cooking which wasn’t as complicated but somehow achieved more.  It was £20.  Ben Greeno at The Loft was £117.50 with matched wines which were so so (please god never serve that acrid red with the main again).

Where does this leave me in my opinion of The Loft?  I still think it is a worthy “project”.  The idea of a space for a rotating contingent of chefs is a brilliant one.  Some of the experiences will be great.  Some, inevitably won’t be.  However, for the price it is quite some risk when you could just go to Petrus instead.

I’ll leave the final word to my friend Jonny who went to The Loft previously with me and left feeling this time, I think, a little lost.  He expected and wanted to like it but sent me a text saying “I didn’t really enjoy the supper club at the loft the other night.  Was I the only one?“.  No.

  • Price – £117.50
  • Location somewhere secret up Kingsland Road

PS – I thought it was worth adding a link to a separate review by Gourmet Traveller to show how food is such a personal thing and that each night can lead to different conclusions.  The link is here and, in summary, they loved it.  What is particularly interesting is that we are completely at odds on two of the dishes (the celeriac and the deconstructed carbonara).  Food is almost far too personal to review.  However, at least we agree on the underlying promise of Ben Greeno even though our experiences of it on the two evenings we went were different.  Also great pictures on Gourmet Traveller’s review.

7 Comments

  1. Fernandez & Leluu

    What I admire most about you is:
    a) your writing skills
    b) as you said that you are not bribed, paid, offered anything for free and have no motives in the food world – which makes your blog posts very honest and I have great faith in what you are telling me every time I read your opinions/ experiences.
    c) your handsome good looks : / (maybe not that one: )

    Uyen x

  2. Tom

    Uyen – haha, you are too kind, and as I am sure Jen would tell you wrong about the handsome bit :). I am afraid I just ply you with too much wine everytime we meet.

    Of course the one problem with this I am afraid I would never be able to review you guys again now I know you (and have eaten far too much of your awesome food)

  3. Fernandez & Leluu

    Thats OK – would rather have you as a friend than just a reviewer! You and Jen rock! Love Uyen x

  4. Helen

    Excellent post. My friend Chris wrote a completely honest review of el bulli – it wasn't particularly positive http://cheesenbiscuits.blogspot.com/2009/09/el-bulli-costa-brava.html

  5. Tom

    Helen – that is exactly the review I was thinking of. A brilliant post which avoids the usual "I got a reservation" and "I must like it because it is El Bulli" and is completely refreshingly honest. Thanks for the tip. Will update the review.

  6. foodsnobblog

    I could not disagree with you more. I have eaten at the Loft under Ben Greeno twice already and twice enjoyed it immensely. Both meals have showed great potential and cooking of the kind I have not found elsewhere in London.
    I have also read other positive reports of the cooking.

    I must say, i thought it odd the length you went to to try to prove your probity and demonstrate your credentials, and did not see the relevance…

    ps. lastly, are you saying it isn't possible to enjoy a meal at el Bulli?

  7. Tom

    Foodsnob – the reason for setting out my context is that we are all good post modernists now. Given that a blog is, in essence, an individual's creation of his own truth any reader should also be given the tools to evaluate whether or not they agree with my version of it.

    I had not previously set out my "blogger's manifesto" as I just dropped into blogging after a citizen reviewer website I used in NY (Yelp) feinted at censoring one of my reviews. I was accutely aware that others have been to Ben Greeno at The Loft and had a different experience to mine when I wrote this review and this was one of the reasons I wanted to put it down. In short, I pay and I judge things in a world cuisine mindset. This is the basis of my subjectivism and it is embedded in my reviews.

    Ben Greeno at The Loft for me was a thorough disappointment. Promise there was but I don't pay money for promise.

    However, I have to say thanks for the comment as it has given me the opportunity to have a proper read of your site and the chance to indulge in some food fantasies in places I haven't yet visited. On the places I have visited in common with you I find it interesting that our views are more aligned than separated.

    And finally, no I think it is probably very possible to have a good meal at El Bulli. I fully intend to when I go to the (not quite as good) El Bulli hotel sometime later this year (work permitting). However, what I enjoyed was the realistic nature of the review which opted out of the meal inflation and exclusivity mindset that restricts so many reviewers.

    And really finally, twice? Why? From the reviews I have read it is largely the same each time.

    Tom

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