Berners Tavern | Bland food and rushed service in a great venue

Berners Tavern has all the makings of a great restaurant. An all star team (see Jason Atherton and Phil Carmichael), a breathtaking room, a brilliant wine list and a menu with sufficiently impressive sounding dishes. Somehow though – and I am really amazed that this is actually possible – it all counts for nothing. Berners Tavern was simply disappointing.

I have said from the beginning that for whatever reason I tend to see things differently. And food is definetely something that I couldn’t care less what the specialists think or how famous the chefs are. This is about me having a meal I enjoy. And even though I accept I am in the minority view here, this is my personal blog and the fact is that Berners Tavern is associated with just one phrase in my mind: NEVER AGAIN.

Berners Tavern

So here’s the story. The s.o. and I love dining somewhere special from time to time (granted, we also enjoy burgers and liquid cheese on chips). You might recall my posts about La Petite Maison and Le Caprice. The s.o. booked Berners Tavern as a bit of a Christmas treat for us and we went on Boxing Day. I now wonder if the date was a bit of a mistake (were they burned out?) but as the s.o. pointed out, if a restaurant like that is not shining during the holidays, when the hell do they expect to shine?

A great venue

The venue is actually amazing – especially if you consider that most venues in London are small, with low ceilings and a bit of a 1980s buzz. Berners Tavern is all about the space. High ceilings, what feels like millions of paintings on the wall (felt like we were in one of those paintings depicting collections of paintings) and *space*. Big tables, comfy chairs and space (at least compared to other restaurants) between tables.

Flustered staff

The effect was somewhat spoiled by the staff. I have never seen so many people looking so flustered in a restaurant. When we went to La Petite Maison I did note that there seemed to be *a lot* of members of staff, but they were unobtrusive, polite and efficient. At Berners Tavern everyone looked exhausted, worried and unsure of what they were supposed to be doing. We honestly thought that something was going on that night – like maybe a walkout of the shift managers or the more senior members of staff being on holiday.

Our own waiter took the order and the moment we uttered the last syllable he sped away to input it in the system, without asking for a wine order. A sommelier was not around and the waiter re-appeared at some point (or maybe the s.o. signaled him) to take our wine order. I’m telling you, we were genuinely perplexed. Did he worry he would forget the order and that’s why he did a Speedy Gonzales on us? Is it normal for a restaurant with a sommelier to not give some suggestions to the patrons?

I do have to mention Britte (I hope I spell the name right) who took care of us from dessert onward. I asked for her name on purpose because she was so starkly different from her colleagues. Attentive, smiley and going out of her way to satisfy my request for dessert. An excellent professional.

Anyway. Crap service is one of those things. Some people don’t care but it really irks me. Both the s.o. and I are very polite and smiley people. We also don’t usually make a fuss (we didn’t at Berners Tavern). So you see, crap service is not something that we deserve (if anyone ever “deserves” crap service).

The bad food

The biggest dissappointment with Berners Tavern was the food. I can forgive shitty surroundings and crap service. We both can. We actually forgave both those things at Polpetto because the food (especially the beef shin strozapretti) was excellent. Not so with Berners Tavern.

Our salad was the Berners Tavern chopped salad with chicken and it was bland. The chicken was tasteless, the quantity was meager and I  could have sworn that the sweetcorn came from a tin. We also indicated that we would be sharing but had to wait and then request some serving cutlery which didn’t come with the dish because… reasons. Not a great start.

Berners Tavern

My roasted loin of Highland venison, onion fondue, baby stilton baked potato, beetroot, cocoa and juniper was actually quite good. Very well cooked (just bloody enough) and excellent quality of meat. The onion fondue was really yummy and went really well with the venison. The other stuff didn’t add a lot to the dish.

Berners Tavern

The s.o.’s roasted rump of Romeny Marsh lamb, crisby breast, smoked ham hock and white bean ragout, pesto was the worst. I actually did try a bit of the lamb which was incredibly chewy. You probably needed teeth of steel to get through that.

Berners Tavern

We also had some duck fat roasted Ratte potatoes which tasted like cardboard. There was *nothing* special about them, not even a hint of something interesting. I’m just flabbergasted that a kitchen with such pedigree can get roasted potatoes wrong!

Are we going again?

Only if someone notifies me that on the 26th of December something had gone horribly wrong and the kitchen and front of house staff had been magically replaced by a dastardly competitor.

Such a shame.

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Disclosure: We went to Berners Tavern on 26 December 2014 and paid our bill in full. No prior discussion with the restaurant took place.
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Berners Tavern
10 Berners Street, London W1T 3NP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7908 7979
www.bernerstavern.com

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