Saturday, 13 August 2011

Down and out in Paris and London - Review: Little Bay, Villa Spicy

I probably couldn't have chosen a title further from the truth: I've been living the high life thanks to a recruitment drive. But this title has such a nice patter to it!  I could have maybe defended myself by saying it's related to the book. Unfortunately, I haven't read it. But I can say with some certainty that this post relates in no way to the themes/plot/characters in the book.

So, what was I doing on Monday night? Well, I was oblivious to London burning until quite late in the afternoon. After the pre-university-admission 'always be well informed, read the paper back to back every day' I found myself quite depressed about the state of the world. So I gave up reading the news and relied on HIGNFY for my dose of current affairs. Of course, it's not always that easy. I do like knowing stuff. But then I encounter articles ----
so I was going to put a link to an article about a 13 year old boy being brutally murdered by soldiers that made me want to join the UN peace corps after I read it except I was googling to try and find it and I just came up with all of this. Anyway, remembering the particular article I'm thinking of and a quick glance down all of this makes me feel sick and watery eyed so I'll stop. But I think this explains why I don't read the news.

So anyway, I hadn't heard about Tottenham on Monday. Instead I went happily about my day. I met a friend after work, had a really overpriced glass of wine at a nice bar. It's OK though, I made up for my £5+ gulping through taster mouthfuls provided by the barman trying to find a wine medium enough. So by 7 I was good and tipsy. And craving BBQ food. Oh look, there's the Southbank. PERFECT. Pitt Cue Co. But no. It's closed. Again. I asked the man in the fish and chip stall next door what the deal was: apparently they're only open Wednesday - Sunday. Ergh. Well, we went into Dishoom's 'beach cafe' instead. But I wasn't keen. And I'm an insistent drunk (people I know, please avoid reading that and thinking about specific instances of this) so we didn't go there. Instead, tried ringing 118 to get the number of Mugen. Did you know the most frequently asked question to 118 is 'how long is the longest penis?' Did you know that I once rang them to ask if eating something off the floor would kill me and they didn't send me a free text? I was drunk then too. Anyway, Mugen was closed. And the Japanese place which looks like it should be serving pub food was vetoed by my companion. And I wanted to save Punch Tavern for a working lunch. Anyway, this is becoming (has already become?) boring - we ended up near Exmouth Market. At Little Bay. We were driven here by hunger. Although the prices were pretty appealing. We were all 'wow how can they be turning a profit at £4.48 for a main?' This place is so cute. The d├ęcor is really nice: they haven’t spent too much money on it but it looks lovely. And it’s ambient and red and yellow and makes you think of Italy and opera and Where Angels Fear to Tread. And it’s so cheap! But unfortunately you can taste that it’s cheap.
Moules marinieres/garlic roasted mushrooms to start then confit of duck/penne arrabiatta. They gave us free bread too. With something where I spent ages trying to work out if it was butter or margarine. Which means it was probably margarine. Anyway, the mussels tasted a bit rank. I’m not using rank in the Birmingham ghetto sense of the word. I just mean they had this slight cacky aftertaste which reminds me of the aftertaste you get after a sip of £5 Blossom Hill White Zinfandel from Wetherspoons. Not all of them had this aftertaste. But most of them did. I think I was more concerned by the fact they didn’t all have it… It seemed to imply the quality of the mussel varied rather than poor cooking. The sauce was nice though and I was glad I’d saved some bread to sweep it up with.
Confit of duck had a weird texture. It was almost…grainy? It was falling apart but each morsel was kind of spiky. This texture detracted from the taste somewhat. The puy lentils they were served with were bland and tasted primarily of salt. The sweet carrots that I got as a side complimented them well, however, so it was palatable. But it wasn’t good.
The mushrooms and penne, on the other hand, were really tasty. The pasta sauce was probably a little too on the sugary side (or maybe just lacking in the spice needed to contrast with it) and the mushrooms were a tad underseasoned but they were still meaty and addictive.
So perhaps the key with Little Bay is to order simply? But then thinking about it, moules mariniere isn’t complex. Perhaps it’s just a pitfall of the territory of trying to do lots of different types of meal? I admire that they’re trying to provide good food in a nice place in Central London at steal-prices but the fact that something in their formula is resulting in sub standard food suggests they need to change something. Perhaps lots of simple dishes which use similar ingredients? It won’t make for an earth-shattering menu but to be honest, their current menu isn’t either. If simplifying the current menu just a little means they’ll produce far superior tasting food, they should do it. They’ll find themselves overrun with customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were already though: i reiterate that the atmosphere and the service are both excellent. It’s just some of the food! 

It's OK to eat somewhere really cheap and think the food isn't very good. Yes, in an ideal world, people wouldn't charge for food that was bad. But it's not an ideal world (see earlier discussion of riots, poverty, Kashmir - please don't think this is me saying eating a sub-par meal at a restaurant is in any way comparable  to those things...) Villa Spicy, a restaurant in Paris I was taken to, charges loads and doesn't serve food much better than Little Bay's.
Cod pastilla was not pleasant. The cod was underseasoned and slightly bitter. The spinach which also made up part of the filling was murky and drowned and too salty (perhaps they wanted the cod and spinach to cancel out?) The pastry was soggy from the wetness of the spinach. It was NOT good. What was good though was the roasted red pepper sauce that came with it. That was delicious and light and flavoursome. Unfortunately, it came in a half-full shot glass and there wasn't enough of it to drown out the flavour of the rest of the dish.
Pudding fared better. I was a little disappointed that creme brulee didn't come in a little pot where I could crack the surface. But the surface was crackable all the same. Crackable and delicious! Like little shards of glass but less dangerous. The underneath layer wasn't so good - it was a bit too eggy for my liking and a bit cloying. But the flavours were bang on, so much vanilla. It also came with a pink sorbet.
I'm not the biggest fan of sorbet but this sorbet I liked. Also it was a good accompaniment for the slightly-unpleasant cloy of the creme brulee. Completely took it away. Yes, pudding was nice. But worth the price? Probably not. Villa Spicy was better than Little Bay. But not £14 better. And the interior of Little Bay was much more fun.

Although Villa Spicy didn't really confirm all the rumours about French restaurants being top of the game, being in Paris (and not paying for anything) was still wonderful. I think I might move out there in a year or so. Maybe I'll be the new Petite Anglaise. I am very small. Except hopefully I won't get sacked for fairly justifiable reasons, start a lawsuit and then whine about everything.

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