"This must be the busiest pub in London!"Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
I met my friend at Victoria Station on Wednesday evening and we crossed the junction outside to reach Victoria Street and the shiny new glass mega-development on the corner of Bressenden Place. You can approach this pub from a number of directions – and we choose to walk through the large colourful sculpture on Cardinal Walk into the central walkway which is appropriately called Cathedral Walk (if you look back down towards Victoria Street you can see the stunning vista of the red brickwork of Westminster Cathedral at the end).
You wander along – past the huge Marks & Spencers and numerous chain eateries (including Ha Ha, Zizzis, La Tasca and Costa). If you have the time, take the escalator up to the roof garden which must be a lovely spot for summer lunchtime picnics - there’s also a Wagamamas up there. Anyway, you continue down the central avenue and you can hear the buzz of The Phoenix from quite a distance – sitting in the shadow of yet more construction and redevelopment. You have to practically fight your way through the crowds on the tiny outside courtyard at the rear or through the crowds on the pavement at the front to enter the main bar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bar so busy! The noise from the gathered masses was astonishing but everyone seemed to be in very fine spirits.
Battling our way through the large bar and admiring the (full) inviting sofas and assortment of tables and chairs we found the quieter (but not much) small dining area at the rear which backed onto the small terrace garden. The rustic wooden tables had comfortably tired leather seats and the walls had interesting black and white prints. The chunky crackle glass water glasses were a nice touch. The waiter – while clearly very busy – was cheerful and pleasant enough. He pointed out the specials on the blackboard which I admit were hard to read (but then it may be my eyes at fault). It was a warm evening and in the absence of air conditioning the breeze from the open door to the terrace was not just pleasant but essential. We received our menus at 730pm. The requested tap water arrived. And we waited. And waited. The waiter finally returned at 815 to say that he was sorry but appeared to have lost our order. He apologised again when I explained that actually he hadn’t been to take our order yet. I guess that this is the downside of it being such a popular and busy pub. I suspect less determined and hungrier diners may have given up and gone elsewhere.
So we finally ordered our food – I selected the (rather small as it happens) Portobello mushroom filled with spinach (which was plentiful) with pine nuts and herb dressing (£6.95). My companion choose the smoked haddock and salmon fishcake (£6.95) which was huge and tasty (too often fishcakes are so full of breadcrumbs and potato that their flavour is bland) and lemony, but the promised hollandaise sauce appeared to be tartare sauce and there was a good assortment of leaves that weren’t advertised. You win some, you lose some. For her main course she had the pan roasted fillet of pork with parma ham and brambley (sic) apple and cashel blue gratin (£13.95) which was substantial and she ate all of it so I guess no complaints there. I opted for the pan roast fillet of salmon with crushed new potatoes, asparagus and hollandaise sauce (£14.95). The salmon was well cooked and I enjoyed the new potatoes but would have liked a little more asparagus. We washed this down with a bottle of rose wine from the extensive Geronimo wine list which I have admired greatly in the past. Our waiter apologised that there wasn’t a chilled one available and duly provided an ice bucket.
On the way upstairs to the ladies (only two cubicles for such a large pub was a bit of a limitation) and I couldn’t help peeking into the function room – which was again very busy.
Overall, our bottle of wine and two courses and coffee came to £74.60 which I thought was a bit steep – especially as service was not included. I was torn as to whether to leave a tip bearing in mind the poor service but figured I ought to as it was hardly the waiter’s fault that he was so busy that he had inadvertently neglected to take our order.
I think this must be the busiest pub in London. The barriers that surround the exterior of the pub give the appearance of the queue containment surrounding the most popular night clubs when the reality is probably that grumpy neighbouring office landlords don’t like the overspill of happy, chattering, drinking masses into the large paved area surrounding it who are probably the workers who frequent their offices during the day anyway. Whilst the atmosphere and clientele would be highly appealing to people who want to be amongst the lively crowd, and the food was good (albeit pricey for a pub) the sheer busyness of the place made the service slow. Not a place for a quiet or romantic chat but older couples and even the odd family seemed well content amongst all the office crowd and younger people in the place. It’s certainly a place to be if you like buzz bordering on crush in a large, spacious and traditional pub.
KimT reviewed The Phoenix on Wed 04 Aug 2010