Posted on Thursday, 7th May 2009
Despite its location in Theatreland in the West End, Bedford & Strand has managed to defy the odds by maintaining a reputation as a local, rather than a touristy favourite, with a bar clientele that is typically suited up. It’s almost hidden away, with a nondescript entrance which leads downstairs to a bar and restaurant. On most nights of the week it’s busy, abuzz with conversation and an atmospheric hum akin to a Parisian bistro setting. Having been there several times before for drinks, I was curious to explore whether the constant stream of packed tables concealed a well-heeled eating spot in the heart of Covent Garden.
Our evening began in a rather interesting fashion. Now I’m sure we’ve all had bouts of disappointment at a restaurant where we’ve experienced moments when the food wasn’t so great, or the service could have been better. Usually, I just let these setbacks pass into the ether with only the slightest of comments. But occasionally, I can feel rather self-righteous, and when this happens, I simply cannot seem to keep my mouth shut. Take for instance, my dinner at Floridita last December. I ended up exchanging some heated words with the waiter about the service charge on account of the service being so bad. And on this occasion at Bedford & Strand, well, there was to be no exchanging of words. Rather, when I was presented with my foie gras terrine, mango chutney and toasted brioche starter, I simply stormed out of my chair, grabbed the waiter and proclaimed: “there is no way in hell I am paying £9.50 for that. THAT is not a foie gras terrine!”
To be honest, I didn’t actually use the word “hell”. I threw that in for dramatic effect for the purpose of your reading pleasure. But I do not think the tone of my voice could have been mistaken, even if I didn’t utter the word itself. As a consequence, there was no retort, just a mere nod of the head from the waiter and an offer of an exchange. Most of the foie gras terrines that I have ever eaten, and there have been many, have come in slices covering a surface area of several centimetres, and typically have been at least one centimetre thick. But it wasn’t so much the round shape of this piece of terrine as the portion size itself that bothered me. Roughly the size of a large thimble, it was so small that I was simply horrified. £9.50 for this? Who said size doesn’t matter? To be truthful, it generally doesn’t, but when it’s bordering on the ridiculous, there comes a point when you must just say ‘no way’.
I quickly switched to an alternative starter of steak tartare, quail’s egg and melba toasts (£9.50), and this time around the serving was much more acceptable. However, it was unfortunately overwhelmed by the addition of too much Worcestershire sauce. Extremely tart, after several mouthfuls it became a little difficult to eat. A second starter of salt and pepper baby squid (£6.50) was tender, if a bit too peppery. The batter coating was also uneven, which had the effect of leaving some of the flesh exposed.
A main of slow-braised Scottish ox cheek was delightful (£13.50). Tender and flavourful, it came with a lovely, creamy mashed potato, and sweetly caramelised carrots.
A stilton risotto with William pear (£11.50) was pleasant, but a little heavy on the cheese. A 21 day Scottish rib-eye steak was served medium, rather than the requested medium rare, and was disappointing, for it was not the best cut of meat. Although it was not chewy, it was not as tender as it should have been for a steak that was priced at £18.75. Furthermore, it had not been sufficiently seared to provide the slightly crispy, brown outer layer which gives steak that additional flavour. The accompanying side of hand cut chips were also soggy and brown in colour, suggesting that they had been fried in dirty oil.
A salmon and haddock fish cake served with creamed spinach and a poached egg was not fresh, and its crumbed coating was soft rather than crispy, which suggested it had been pre-cooked and then reheated.
Dessert of a chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream (£5.50), was creamy and chocolately, and ice cream (three scoops for £4.50) was satisfactory.
Bread is worthy of mention, if for no other reason than its tastelessness. Hoping for freshly baked baguettes or the like, we instead received something that might have been purchased from the frozen section in the supermarket and defrosted. At this juncture, I might also mention the toilets. Typically this is not something I would blog about, but there was a rather unpleasant damp smell (as in damp and not sinister odours) permeating the facilities, which was probably not helped by the fact that the restaurant is situated in a basement.
The service was as mixed as the food. We were predominantly served by two waiters, one of whom was extremely pleasant. However, the same could not be said of our other waiter who was initially very grumpy. After taking our order, he skipped off without giving us a chance to order drinks or sides. This caused some consternation, for what were we to do without drinks, particularly alcohol? To be fair, he seemed to mellow as the evening wore on, and I can only wonder if this was a silent (and guilty) acknowledgement that the restaurant might have tried to serve me a raw deal with the foie gras terrine.
At best the food is average, and at the prices they were charging, the experience did not feel worthwhile. Therefore, I am sad to say that there is no hidden Covent Garden gem here. Still it was a night for many firsts: the first time I was to sprint out of my chair in protest at my starter; and the first time I was to write about something that I did not eat.
Bedford & Strand at:
1A Bedford Street,
London WC2E 9HH
Tel : +44 (0)207 836 3033