Friday, October 19, 2012

Beard to Tail, 8th October

To post or not to post? That was the question. As you can see I have gone with the former, and sincerely hope this is not bad blogger etiquette. You see, at the end of the meal I noticed that every table but ours had a little folded card on it. Thinking it might contain some specials we’d missed out on, I got my friend to grab one from the next table. It turned out it was a note, telling diners that their meal would be discounted by 50% but with a plea to customers not to blog or tweet about the place while it was still finding its feet. They suggested people come back again once everything had been got down pat. And it wasn’t that our table hadn’t had one of these cards, it was just that my other friend had moved it out of the way to another table before I’d seen it. 

I had from the outset intended to blog about the place. Now what was I to do? Succumb to their imploration, or proceed? What was the right thing to do? The fair thing? Something about their note seemed a little off – they know people rely on word of mouth, twitter and blogs these days, and they were trying to circumvent the system. I was sure they wouldn’t mind if people blogged about it if they enjoyed it, but it rather seemed like they didn’t have much faith in themselves if they were asking for no reviews. Unfortunately, having already eaten by the time I saw this, I knew their lack of faith was understandable – the meal was not a huge success. Surely people have a right to know, and not just hear only positive reviews?

But then again, maybe they did have the right to iron out the kinks before inviting criticism. Maybe it wouldn’t be right to ‘badmouth’ the place and put off other people who would, by going, otherwise allow Beard to Tail to get things right in the end. After all, they were offering a 50% discount to diners to compensate them for being guinea pigs. Or... Could it be seen as a bribe not to say anything bad about the place? We, as it happens, were getting the meal completely free because my boyfriend had won their facebook competition to name a pig. There was a bit of a gap between us winning and them opening and they did need a gentle reminder as to what the prize was - a meal for four (not two as they'd though) and a welcome drink.

Anyway, what has decided me to post was the fact that they’ve had two practice runs in the form of their pop-up in the summer and a couple of weeks ago, and by all accounts they were successful. I knew it was their first night and wouldn’t have been surprised if there were few upsets as they get to grips with things. But I thought these were more likely to be with staff not knowing the systems or the menu yet, or the speed of food being brought to the table being slow as they struggled to cope with demand. I did not expect the food to be the letdown, again, because they had cooked many of these things at their pop-up. The rump pumpy especially seemed to be a hit both times.

So, let me get down to the review proper. 

Sadly I think these doors have been replaced with real ones

We were rather amused by the outside. Apparently the doors haven’t yet turned up, nor the windows, but they have opened regardless. I hesitated only a moment, before we pushed open the doors which told us to “Come on through!”. This slightly unfinished look carried on throughout the restaurant, though the bits that were done, like the 2 pence wall, were impressive. The smell of paint was quite prevalent, and the bathroom still had a touch of debris, with builder’s marks on the unfinished walls, but to be honest, we cared not a jot about all that. We knew it was the first night and that they’d said things were a little ‘work in progress’. We only cared about the food. 

I was surprised that the place wasn’t full – the pop-ups seemed to have been so popular. But it was a rainy Monday so maybe that had put people off. Or maybe because their second pop-up was so recent, the novelty had already worn off a bit. The staff were very friendly, joking about the pig we’d named and why it wasn’t running around the restaurant. Our waiter was attentive, and came along at appropriate intervals to check if we needed anything else. He didn’t seem to know what the deal was with our free meal – he thought we were getting 50% off but when we told him what we’d been told, he excused himself to quickly confirm this. No harm, no foul. Then I read that card at the end of the evening saying all diners were privileged to 50% off their food bill, and realised he hadn’t been offering us what he thought was our prize at all, just what everyone else was being given!

For starters, I had the steak tartar (my first ever, above), Stephen and Luke shared the ribs and stuffed pig’s trotter between them. Katherine had the mussels with bacon. The ribs were very tasty. They weren’t the kind of ribs you’d expect in a ‘downhome’ BBQ joint, they were ribs ‘restaurant style’ - less messy and with the extra BBQ sauce coming in a little jug on the side. This I thought was terrific, although Katherine wasn’t a fan. On the downside, the ribs were sort of lukewarm, they could definitely have done with being hotter when brought to the table. The same, unfortunately, was said about the trotter, and they weren't overwhelmed by the taste. My friend said her mussels were good, but the bacon was all lumped in her first few mussels – misleading her into thinking they were all so generously sprinkled. And she wished there was some bread to soak up the rest of the lovely sauce. I liked my steak tartar which came with some cornichons and a little quail’s egg on top. It was very gherkiny, could maybe have done with a bit more seasoning (I applied more salt and pepper) but I was happy with it. Not that I have a frame of reference, but steak tartar hadn’t previously been high on my agenda to order, yet on the basis of this one, I would try others. I think that’s not too shabby at all. 

For mains, Stephen and I ordered the rumpy pumpy to share,

Luke got the pulled beef featherblade, and Katherine got ribs. 

Luke seemed to like his featherblade and it did look delicious*, I wish I'd tried it. The rumpy pumpy - the star of the show during Beard to Tail’s pop-ups - was a bit of a let down. It was massive, which was definitely impressive – we had no problems sharing it with our other two companions and still finding it difficult to finish. The texture was fine, just fine, though we think it would have benefitted with a little longer at a lower temperature in order to render the fat down more, make it a little more tender, and the crackling a little crunchier. It is apparently marinated in some herbs and such before being cooked, and these flavours did come through. But then you would be overwhelmed by the saltiness. It must be said you did not simply get a mass of pork on a plate. It came with apple sauce in a little pot and a jus in a little jug. When you added this to the pork, it cut through the saltiness quite successfully and it was all a pleasing combination. But you really did NEED those extras, it would have been a chore to eat the meat without them, and for this reason I think they could have been a little more generous with these accompaniments. We also ordered some chips and a side of bubble and squeak. Both well executed, my only complaint being that they were quite dear for the portion size. That little disc of bubble and squeak was supposed to be £4.50! It was barely five mouthfuls.

This makes it look bigger than it was
One more minor gripe – we were allowed a welcome drink with our free meal. We enquired as to the restrictions and were told it could be anything. We all, of course, ordered cocktails. Mine was delicious - the Derby Pie - and my favourite of the evening (we’d been to Callooh Callay and 98 Bar and Lounge beforehand), which was no surprise really as the people who own Beard to Tail are also behind Callooh Callay. Stephen and I then ordered another drink during dinner – a beer and a wine. When our bill came, they charged us for two cocktails. Clearly, they had given us for free the cheaper drinks.

So yes, the place didn’t leave me wanting to gush about it, the whole experience as prize winners wasn’t quite what it could have been, what with the waiter not knowing that we were getting a free meal in the first place, and then charging us for the more expensive drinks niggled, especially as they didn’t mention they would do that at any point.

Desserts looked good, but we were so full from our mains and starters that we decided not to go for them, and based on the previous I wasn’t convinced they would blow me away either.

I was disappointed, but they are, as they say, in their infancy – there is plenty of time for them to improve things. I appreciated that they had evaluation forms to fill in at the end of the night. We tried to be honest, and reasonable. Hopefully they will take some of the comments into consideration.

I feel I should go back in a month or two to see if things have changed. The problem is, on the basis of last week’s performance, do I want to? I suppose it would be a shame never to give their desserts a shot, and the brunch menu looks like it has potential...

And what do you think? Was I right to ‘publish and be damned’ or should I have respected their requests?

*I have been informed, just yesterday, that Luke did not think his featherblade was delicious - he thought it tasted like the inside of a pasty. Oh dear.

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  1. Overall the Beard to Tail is on par with, if not better than St. Johns. In my view the dishes are more interesting and they are a lot cheaper. I also preferred the ambience, as it is more relaxed. The only thing to watch out for is the service, which was patchy, although this could just be down to it being new staff in a new restaurant and will probably improve over time. I just hope they stop cutting your food up.London food blog

    1. I see you have left exactly the same excerpt from your blog on the Hollow Legs post about this, which seems a little remiss. I'm genuinely surprised you liked it so much. Since humming and hahing about whether to write about it, I keep coming across reviews who don't rate it, and the ones that do mostly rate their pop-up or cockail element. The lack of positivity on top of my own experience has put me off trying anything else from them. How can you not get basic seasoning right? I liked the ambience, and had no real complaints about the service - it was just the food!


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