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30/03/2009

The Chelsea Brasserie, London

★☆☆☆☆


This steak is tough. Tough, tough, tough. Tough, like the tyres on a Caterpillar. Tough like a phone book, like oakum rope, like thick latex, like a childhood spent sweeping chimneys, like astrophysics. Tough like Captain Scott, like the waistband on a menopausal WeightWatcher, like Abramovich’s bodyguards, like a Saudi court, tough like that cruel, indefatigable old bitch, life itself. So tough, there’s a rumble in my belly, a biley rough-and-tumble, from this horrible meat. It's rough stuff, a duff dish, off the cuff and not good enough.

But that’s not all. It’s overcooked, too. Overcooked like… well, like an overcooked steak. I mean, I know bavette's a cheap cut. Gloriously so, in fact: a juicy, hard-working slab of flank, popular in basic French bistros, predictably uncommon here. It needs a good bashing to tenderise it, and benefits from a day or two in the fridge, bathing in olive oil. This one has seen neither meat mallet nor rolling pin. Instead, it lay across the grill like a podgy sunbather for about five hours, before turning up here with a repellently oily Béarnaise and some cold, mealy chips.

Nothing is quite as dispiriting as returning to something you once enjoyed and discovering it's actually rubbish. Worse than the inevitable disappointment is the associated dilemma: has this got worse since I last encountered it, or did I just have no taste then? Has the Chelsea Brasserie, like the Simpsons, merely gone downhill? Or - the fear that stalks every critic - did I not know what I was talking about?

You see, a couple of years ago, when I was a mendicant student, and the closest I got to restaurants was pressing my face against their windows like a shoeless Dickensian urchin, I somehow scraped together the coppers and came here for dinner. We had one of those wonderful evenings given meaning and thrill from tight money – a cute and gutsy tian of crab with avocado; a pink-roasted Gressingham breast with mash and verdant spinach; and a fruitily pastried pudding I was a bit too pissed to appreciate. I remember giddily saying that this was egg-zackly the sort of place every neighbourhood deserved, and how brilliant it was to find it so comparatively well priced, in a prime spot on Sloane Square.

And when R and I turn up late on a Wednesday night, and sit down at our linened table with the menu, we feel reasonably optimistic. The restaurant is attached to a biggish hotel, and David Karlsson Möller (formerly of Racine on the Brompton Road - still wonderful) is in the kitchen. The room has an oddly post-industrial feel, all exposed bricks and sickly green lighting: L-shaped, with an attractive copper-sided bar. It’s almost ten o’clock, and we’re just in time to catch the second wind of the cheapish theatre menu. While its dishes have an obvious frugal bent, they read well enough: smoked salmon or salad tiède with duck confit, then a bavette steak with Béarnaise or a wild mushroom risotto, followed by crème caramel or rhubarb tart. Total cost: £24.

Oh. My. God. The duck salad is my worst dish so far this year: chewy, greasy clumps of fowl flung over baby chard, tossed with brittle, bricky croutons, and spattered in a fatty Hellman’s zig-zag. Smoked salmon is almost comically revolting – lanky, farmed, luminescently oily, its rank fishiness buttressed by a nauseating blob of roe. Then that steak – did I mention it was tough? – before the rhubarb tart: a dry, oversweet slab; and a crème caramel tasting of syrup and baby sick. We flee out into the night, vowing never to return.


But by a strange coincidence, I end up back here three days later. A friend of the family is staying in the hotel, and I meet her for breakfast on the way to work. Eggs Benedict is, of course, one of the world’s great dishes. The version here is not. Its poached eggs are ferociously undercooked, and when pierced, spurt across the plate in a watery yellow squelch. The salmon makes a terrifying return, the brioche is cloyingly sweet, and the hollandaise tastes stoutly of lemony fat and pus. Service, like the other evening, is slow and distractedly haughty. Still, I say thanks and goodbye, and cycle to work. There, within minutes, I feel a grip of nausea, deep, perturbed groans of the belly, slow waves of gathering sick. I rush to the loo and throw my breakfast up hotly onto the porcelain with clenched, noisy violence. Perhaps those eggs weren't fresh, or perhaps my body was telling me never to return - if so, message received. It's a shame the Chelsea Brasserie exists at all. It's a shame that customers have to suffer its food, and a shame that the same food can make them ill. Shame, in fact, is a good word to associate with the place. Then again, I suppose, that's tough.


The Chelsea Brasserie, Chelsea, London SW1W
Tel. +44 (0)7881 5999

See on the TFYS Map

Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, costs £48

Chelsea Brasserie on Urbanspoon

11 comments:

  1. Gross. Nobody likes pussy eggs! That is horrid. I was unlikely to gothere in the first place. But I am certainly not going there now.

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  2. Those eggs look toxic. It's a very unhappy plate of food.

    Have you been to The Botanist? I'd imagine that breakfast there is a safer bet!

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  3. Holy god - that sounds horrific! Poor you.

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  4. JB - glad to have put you off the place.

    Kate - thanks for posting! I've never been to The Botanist, but since it's only round the corner from the Chelsea Brassiere, and its eggs Benedict are cheaper, I'll definitely be checking it out.

    Lizzie - thanks a lot! At least I got the afternoon off work...

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  5. Hahaha brilliant. The duck salad looks like someone's already eaten it, and the smoked salmon is comically bad - what's that weird slick of oil that the mayonnaise is wobbling on top of? Horrendous.

    Makes great copy though doesn't it!

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  6. Thanks Chris - what a fantastic description of the duck! Glad you enjoyed the review.

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  7. I am from Utah, USA and I am now hungry;)

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  8. When I reached the end of your review describing the aftermath of yr breakfast,a cold shiver went up my spine and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.I had exactly the same reaction(only out of both ends) to a lunch that I had at.....
    Racine ,when Moller was there.
    at the time I wrote to the restaurant as my wife and I were sick for 24 hours after our lunch,pointing out that they had a serious hygiene problem or were serving food that was "off".It seems perhaps too coincidental that the same chap is now at yr bkfast place ,and you get sick.

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  9. Utah guy - thanks for commenting! Although I'm slightly worried that you now feel hungry...

    Patrick - that's a really interesting coincidence. Möller is clearly no stranger to making people ill. That said, I do like Racine - I've had three or four very good meals there over the years. Maybe I was just lucky?

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  10. Good grief, what a truly awful experience. That duck salad sounds rank - who wants croutons with duck? In fact, who wants croutons? The steak, well enough said about that I think but really, those eggs? Goodness me, that hollandaise really relaly doesn't look right does it? I know it didn't taste right but it looks really congealed almost. Like plastic. I am so sorry you had to encounter it a second time!

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  11. How horrible - I would have refused to pay. But thank you for the entertaining review!

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