By Jonathan Byrne
Celebrating My Birthday at Joe Allen, est 1965!
It’s a nice problem to have! My friends are such a ‘tres internationale’ group with Alison a New York fragrance designer catapulting between offices in London, Paris and New York; Dante an Italian wine importer with a brand new account in Rome demanding his time; Andrew flying the world with British Airways and Richard’s security role having taken him to the Middle East, China and Australia recently.
Hence arranging a date to celebrate my birthday in October took until mid November. Have you recently tried to book a table for six in Central London at the last minute? I tried seven of our favorites and none could offer us space. Whatever the impending doom Brexit might suggest, London’s restaurant market is definitely booming.
Good old faithful Joe Allen, in the heart of theatre land, was able to welcome us on a Thursday evening. The original New York restaurant is five years younger than I and London’s version opened in 1977. It’s the one place you can be sure to find a table post theatre and is often packed with famous faces. Last year Joe Allen London relocated a short distance away from its first home so we were all intrigued to see what had changed. The layout is the only noticeable change. There is still a cave like warmth of raw brick lined walls packed with theatre posters and signed photos. Solid sturdy tables and chairs must have made the move as well. The whole atmosphere is comfy and welcoming. It really is like coming home to the classic American Theatreland Brasserie.
There are no surprises on the menu, just the reassurance of classics: Crispy Fried Squid, Caesar Salad, Lobster Bisque and of course Truffle Mac n Cheese for starters. My main of flat iron chicken with spinach and Salsa Verde was just perfect. Someone had a straightforward steak; Dante, trying to be sensible, went for steamed seabass. To be honest our conversation took over from assessing the food; however everyone ate with gusto and absolutely no complaints or criticism. Alison had turned up with samples of the latest fragrances from the houses of Jill Sander, Prada and Tom Ford that she is working on which led to a riot of spritzing. The next table was quite fascinated by our antics.
Andrew and I have learned to choose wines before Dante joins the group or it becomes a long production. On this evening Dante had been hosting a Prosecco tasting at the Caldesi Cookery School in Marylebone before dinner so we were able to make some quick decisions in advance of his arrival. We then hide the bottles and made him tell us about the wine from just tasting. Dante’s wine knowledge never fails to amaze as he gets it 99% correct on all occasions. A light and lively Pino Grigio from Paolini in Sicily pleased us all and I also chose a Vina Mues Tempranillo for a red wine.
The service is equally warm and friendly; they were not at all put off by late arrivals, swapping places around the table and general hilarity. Perhaps working regularly with theatre types prepares the staff for a lively group like ours.
Even more refreshing was the price: £276.41 between six of us! Joe Allen is definitely a place to which we will be returning.