Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* John Torode and reader Michael Williams compare notes on Colbert.
John Torode is a broadcaster, chef, author and restaurateur who set up London restaurants Smith of Smithfield and The Luxe.
Michael Williams, 28, lives in Bermondsey and works as a financial controller. He eats out around five times a month, his best experience being at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester. His guilty pleasure is onion bagels with blue cheese and onion chutney.
Colbert is the new opening from Rex Restaurants, run by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the group behind The Wolseley, The Delauney and Brasserie Zedel. A take on the idea of the Parisian pavement café, Colbert takes up residence on one of London’s smartest blocks – Sloane Square. Oozing Parisian chic, there’s wood panelling, black and white tiled floors, red leather and French posters adorning the walls. It’s an all day affair, open from 8am to 11pm Monday to Thursday, 11.20pm Friday and Saturday and 10.30pm on Sunday, and serving everything from breakfasts, such as patisserie, French toast and granola, to lunchtime sandwiches of croque madame and croque raclette, as well as dinner dishes of cassoulet de Toulouse and steak Diane.
I love the bar, which is adorned with all sorts of prints and photography, plus a pennant from Chelsea Football Club. There is a real buzz about the whole place.There seems to be a constant flow of people coming and going and the poor guy working on the door juggles tables in a way few people could. On the whole the service is good although at times a little strained, but I thought the customers were quite demanding which could explain it. *John was recognised on his visit.
Having recently dined at two other Corbin and King restaurants, our first impressions of Colbert were as expected, and it was hard not to be impressed by the elegant décor and French posters. After being shown to our table we were asked promptly if we would like still or sparkling water, to which the response of ‘tap water please’ was almost begrudgingly accepted. Unfortunately, after it was delivered, we were forced to wait around 20 minutes before we were asked for our food and wine order.
The food is varied and the menu broad, covering everything from simply cooked eggs to steak diane. A starter of grilled prawns was rich with garlic butter. These were proper prawns, big and juicy, with thick shells. Bayonne ham was served with a wonderfully rich celeriac remoulade, bejeweled with tiny, salty capers. A main of steak tartare served with salad and frites – thin and crisp with lots of salt – was well made with very sweet meat, perfectly seasoned and a little golden yolk crowning the top. The cigars of bread were soft and addictive.The standout dish of the evening was the côte de veau roti which was perfectly judged; crisp and soft, served with a little sauce that had a good tang of citrus – really fab.There was only one disappointment – my rump of lamb was a really lovely piece of meat and it had been kissed by a very hot pan, maybe a little too hot, and the accompanying ratatouille wasn’t really ratatouille; I expected it to be thick with aubergine and courgettes, but instead it was more of a sauce with a confetti of vegetables. Crème caramel was wobbly, smooth and rich with lovely caramel. A single page wine list is short and to the point and wine is served by the glass, bottle or carafe.We had a glass of chablis and Gigondas – both were excellent.
The menu is well structured, showing off the fact that this is a flexible all-day restaurant, packed with French classics. I decided to go traditional and started with the Bayonne ham with celeriac remoulade. The ham neatly encased the celeriac, and the sauce had a pleasant mustard kick. My partner had the grilled king prawns with garlic butter, which were slightly lacking in garlic, but covered in too much parsley. My main of grilled halibut was a generous fillet, charred by the grill, but didn’t quite flake as satisfyingly as one would have hoped.The flavour, however, combined with the béarnaise was spot-on. A herb-crusted rump of lamb with ratatouille requested medium-rare, was verging on raw in parts and neither of us could finish it. The ratatouille was freshly flavoured with just a bit of bite left in the vegetables. We had sides of mash and green beans. The mash was smooth, but the beans were overcooked and limp. A request was made for a suitable wine to pair with the halibut, however the waiter seemed to ask for my guidance on my grape preferences before suggesting the most expensive glass of chardonnay, a Rully. It was pleasant. One scoop of lemon sorbet was a derisory offering for the price, but a cherry and almond tart, was delicious. Just warm, well textured and full of almond. It was a pity that the waiter whisked away the accompanying jug of cream after the initial pour!
the bottom line
Colbert feels like it’s been on the square for a very long time. The bar alone is worth a visit – make sure to have a good look at the art, the detail of the cabinetry and the cornicing, it gives you a real insight into the attention to detail that makes Corbin and King such influential and successful restaurateurs.
FOOD 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 9/10; SERVICE 7/10; JOHN’S TOTAL: 25/30
Although not perfect, the food was the best thing here, with the service and relatively steep prices a bit of a let-down. I’m sure the service will improve. There were plenty of staff, but they seemed to have strange priorities and a lack of direction. With so much value available in London nowadays, I won’t be returning.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 6/10; MICHAEL’S TOTAL: 20/30
Colbert Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Like other Rex Restaurants, Colbert has a good standard of sustainability. Diners should have no qualms asking about the provenance of halibut on a menu as wild stocks are under severe pressure from overfishing. But the fish at Colbert is predominantly from British waters and includes sustainable items such as oysters and sustainably farmed halibut and salmon. Colbert is signed up to Sustainable Fish City – an initiative to make London a world leader in sourcing sustainable fish. Local and British sourcing is a priority and the menu is strong on seasonal veg. The lamb is local and all eggs are free range.
Written February 2013