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15/06/2009

The Salisbury, Fulham, London

The Salisbury


★★☆☆☆

Of all the innumerable, pointless edicts of so-called good manners, the ‘clear your plate’ rule is undoubtedly the worst. Parents torture their children with it, forcing them to finish each last incinerated scrap, every mushy morsel of overcooked veg. It’s just cruel. And – like so much tabletop etiquette – no-one has ever offered a coherent justification for it. ‘Think of the Africans!’ shriek the bearded finger-waggers. Do they really believe it makes a difference to starving people whether diners tens of thousands of miles away stuff themselves till they explode or just eat until they’re satisfied? Of course not. The hungry want to fill their own bellies: they couldn’t care less about yours. I’d rather hear someone say ‘Give me your wallet’ than ‘Finish your plate’.

And if it’s not that, leaving anything behind is an ‘insult to the host’. What drivel. Cooks deserve to know if their food is terrible: otherwise you condemn all future guests to the same horrible experience. ‘I know my clam bake with Marmite may sound a touch odd, but it always goes down a treat.’ Dinner parties become lugubrious ordeals, dissolutions of happiness, exorcised of pleasure. All the love and generosity, the richness and giving, the great purring glow of sheltering and nourishing, vanish before bad food. I hereby launch a campaign for us, as Britons, to leave what we don’t want, and to complain loudly and embarrassingly whenever the food is bad. Restaurants and dinner parties are equally kosher. You heard it here first.

The Salisbury appeases both plate-clearers and nibblers, basing half its menu on the emetically conflicted pairing ‘English tapas’. Lots of restaurants seem to be doing this nowadays, doubtless prompted by the great R-word. The menu here is good, with a raft of interesting and exciting dishes. You have no problem ordering.

It’s a former pub not far from where I live. You can tell it was once pretty grotty, but now it’s lightly, brightly revamped, skylit and blue. It’s a pleasant dining room, actually, albeit with a slight museum caff vibe; my mum took me on one of her sadly infrequent visits from Auld Reekie.

When the food arrives, I realise The Salisbury offers the gastronomic equivalent of The Crying Game. It all looks great until… aah. One tapa is a ‘veggy Scotch egg’. Why anyone would conceive of such a thing is completely beyond me. It’s a hardish-boiled egg in breadcrumbs on a puddle of capery oil. (There’s a similar recipe in the most staggeringly pointless cookbook in living memory, but at least the author doesn’t call it a ‘veggy Scotch egg’.) Not five minutes’ walk from The Salisbury is the peerless Harwood Arms, where Stephen Williams’s venison Scotch egg is the best bar snack in London. The version here, presumably included to plump up the menu for herbivores, is a terrible idea, distractedly executed.

Chipolatas are bog-standard, their chutney unpleasantly tepid. A salad of pea shoots with feta and balsamic glaze is excellent, though: crisp and green and summery, with fresh cheese, though the vinegar does nothing for it. ‘Pete’s curry’ is tasty, smoothed with coconut milk and smoky with cumin. Gnocchi and smoked chicken are scalding globules with clumps of string. Ten quid says they came straight from the microwave. A side bowl of cabbage is faultless, basking in melted butter and spiked with infant roundels of chive.

Amongst the mains, a pie of pork, apple and cider is good, with a big honk of piggy knuckle, sealed by pastry flaking in filigrees round the edges. Mum has a crab tart with a couple of prawns. It’s steep at £12, and the tart, though well flavoured, is grossly undercooked, leaching onto the plate (an annoying wooden plank) in a slow vomity puddle. Pudding is a deconstructed strawberry cheesecake: a clutch of Elsantas with a bit of cream and some soggy Digestives mixed with butter. It looks like a rat run over by a lawnmower in the snow.

The Salisbury has a great big problem, and it’s not the food, the service, the décor or any of the other things that vex chefs and owners. Its problem is The Harwood Arms. In every imaginable respect, Williams’s incomparable pub trounces the more recent opening. And that’s a shame, and it makes my flinty heart twitch with pity, because they’ve tried hard here and they clearly mean well. But I’d cross London to eat at The Harwood Arms – and because of that, I’d think twice about crossing the road to eat here.


The Salisbury, 21 Sherbrooke Road, London SW6
Tel. +44 (0)20 7381 4005

See on the Map

Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, costs about £60

Salisbury Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sorry about the photos this time – I forgot my camera. Proper pictures will resume in the next review.

15 comments:

  1. Yup, the Harwood arms is great. I've only eaten the scotch eggs and garlicky potatoes but I can't wait to go back for a proper feed. The concept of a veggy scotch egg is so terribly confused, I am actually slightly offended by it.

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  2. Haha - I know! It is an offensive idea, isn't it? Why would you take away the best bit? The HA is just brilliant: I hope you make it back there soon.

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  3. Sounds like something they would have had in wartime - why not go the whole way (won't say hog) and call it 'mock Scotch egg'?

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  4. You are not having a good run at the moment Oliver! Hope your restaurant experiences improve soon.

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  5. Andrzej - Brilliant!

    Gourmet Chick - Thanks a lot! Actually, I've had one or two better experiences recently, so there are some happier reviews on the way :)

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  6. This made me laugh! I was forced to eat up every grain of rice in my bowl as a child, because during the war, according to my parents and grandparents, rice was so precious. So even though I wasn't hungry, everything had to be eaten. And as an adult, I still feel bad when I leave a crumb (or grain of rice) behind!

    Better luck at the next meal!

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  7. Had a great laugh, the rat in the snow sent me over the top.

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  8. Helen - I think that's probably a lot more excusable.

    Richard - Really appreciate you saying so. Thanks very much indeed.

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  9. helen- you are slightly offended by an egg? get a life love

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  10. Anonymous - Actually, you should get a life, for spending your Friday nights leaving nasty, nameless remarks on the Internet. It wasn't 'an egg' that offended Helen and me, it was the concept of vegetarian Scotch egg.

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  11. Why in the world would anyone get offended by a vegetarian scotch egg? What is wrong with people doing things with a slight twist? If you want to eat the same boring things all the time, why not just go to McDonalds, you can be sure they will never do anything with a difference.

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  12. Oliver - Congratulations! Your very first troll. I am so jealous.

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  13. Wow - sense of humour fail, Anonymous...

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  14. Anonymous - Good grief. Of course it was hyperbole to say we were offended by it.

    What's wrong with 'a slight twist'? Well, everything, when the twist rips out the soul of a dish. The whole point of a Scotch egg is the glorious meeting of crisp breadcrumbs, firm egg white, creamy yolk and salt porkiness in the sausagemeat. The Salisbury's 'veggy Scotch egg', abomination that it was, spurned one of the most important components, to no benefit at all.

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  15. Anonymous - Clearly I was not offended by 'an egg'. What I do think though is that it is pointless to make a vegetarian version of a scotch egg because a scotch egg is made with meat. If you don't eat meat, then why would you want to eat a scotch egg? That is my opinion. That said, I don't really care that much - saying I was 'offended' was quite clearly a joke.

    I'll tell you what is offensive though - calling someone you have never met 'love'.

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