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.