"A friendly, memorable, comfortable and informal restaurant amongst a sea of anonymous and over-rated chains"Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
Although I have been there on many occasions in the past (usually in the evening), it was a while ago so I was pleased when a client suggested we have a working lunch there. The owner/manager – Bill, a mid-Western American – welcomed us warmly and continued to come and chat to us (and make some surprisingly good jokes) throughout the meal. What a cheerful host! We were also attended to by other friendly staff – who were rather well spoken. The service, as a result, was truly excellent and probably the most notable thing about my visit – it’s rare to find such friendliness and genuine rapport.
Anyway, it’s traditional clubby décor – wood and never ending large tarnished mirrors. The French cartoons on the walls and the bistro feel of the place generates an interesting contradiction to the traditional American grill angle. And I love the large fuschia pots dotted around the place – they really stand out. The tables appear to stretch out into infinity – a tardis of a restaurant – but still intimate as a result of its spacious galley like configuration and those friendly staff.
Walking through the substantial bar area, we were guided to our table positioned just below a stunning Art Deco/Art Nouveau sky light – allowing us to enjoy the summer’s limited sunshine but protecting us from the view of the many rainy showers we are sadly having to suffer at the moment.
We took Bill’s recommendation on a couple of glasses of wine – New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (three glasses came to £22.50 – so we really should have stretched to a bottle – but it’s a tough call at a business lunch isn’t it?) and also had some still mineral water (£3.65). As calves liver is one of my favourites it was an obvious choice – and my companion was of the same mind. Although, as a regular, he says that all the dishes he has tried there are very good. My medium liver – placed on a roundel of spinach - was cooked well and the sauce was rich and tasty. It was surrounded by a Stonehenge-like arrangement of small roasted potatoes which were crispy outside and soft and fluffy inside. Time did not allow us desserts but we did enjoy our large espressos.
The brunch/lunch menu offers some great choices – eggs Florentine (£5.95), eggs Benedict (£6.50), smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (£6.50) – so it would be an excellent choice if you were meeting friends after shopping in Covent Garden and needed something light. The starters are fairly standard – pear, rocket, walnut and blue cheese salad (£5.95), breseola (£7.95), herb and sesame seared tuna (£6.95), fish soup (£5.95) and steamed mussels (£5.95) are amongst the many choices. There are salads and the chef specials include monkfish wrapped in Parma ham (£13.95), grilled aubergine taboulah salad (£8.95), crispy pork belly (£12.95 – my companion said that you need an afternoon nap after that one) and lemon sole goujons (£10.95). Other grill items include the steak hamburger (£9.95), Cumberland sausage and mashed potatoes (£9.95), scallops in chorizo (£14.95) and scotch fillet steak (£15.95). There is a separate menu for dinner and various deals such as theatre express and the web site indicates that they also run dinner jazz evenings.
I took a trip to the loos downstairs (the steps and downstairs area are a bit tired) and you can linger down here to admire all the photographs of the various actors, actresses and other celebrities that frequent the place. I’m afraid that I am not very good at recognising many of these people although I did notice Mick Jagger on the wall near where we were eating upstairs.
One unique feature of the place is that cherished and regular customers receive either their own table (e.g. Edwina Currie) or a little brass plaque bearing their name. You can see them alongside the dining tables and also on the front of the bar. I seriously want one of those! Maybe Bill will one day getting round to providing a list of all the names and a little bit about those people?
£64.52 was the total bill so I wouldn’t put it at the bargain end of business lunches – but it is a memorable, comfortable and informal restaurant amongst a sea of anonymous and over-rated chains in the immediate proximity. Reminded me of nearby Joe Allen’s – only lighter and friendlier.
KimT reviewed PJ's Restaurant & Bar on Fri 31 Jul 2009