Thursday, 17 December 2009

Over-reaching yourselves doesn't equal good dining

Well, yesterday's department Christmas lunch was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon – in spite of the food.

Never has it been so spectacularly illustrated that over stretching yourself is not a good idea.

Harrison's is a decent gastro pub. Last year's Christmas dinner wasn't bad, but when I've lunched there on a couple of occasions in the last 12 months, the food has been very enjoyable. The trouble starts, though, when they imagine that they can cater to something upwards of 60 people in a single afternoon, when they're clearly not used to doing so.

I'd ordered a smoked mackerel salad – but my heart sank when it arrived. The fish was clearly dyed and thus not properly smoked. It was dry too. And it had simply been slapped on a plate with a dollop of horseraddish and a handful of watercress. Which hadn't actually been washed properly, as I discovered when noticing a tiny grub slithering around on my plate. It was my very first such Victor/Victoria moment. The Other Half, who had ordered the same thing, had a bug too.

I told the staff and was promised that the price of the starter would be removed from the bill.

Several people had opted for the paté. Which turned up in small ramekins – with an almost liquid topping. It was either duck or goose fat, which melts very quickly outside a fridge. It should have been clarified butter, which gives a proper seal and allows you to lift it cleanly away from the contents beneath. And amazingly, this was served with slabs of bread that had not even been toasted.

Then came my main course. For a change, I'd been tempted away from roast meat by the offer of a risotto of chestnuts, sage and Pecorino. It was moderately alright – okay, it was hot, the rice was decently cooked and there was evidence of chestnut slivers in the dish. The sage was absent – and sage is not a herb you can hide easily. And the Pecorino was simply grated over the top. It was hugely under-seasoned, which leads me to believe that the stock it had been cooked with wasn't much cop either.

Various colleagues, eating either roast turkey or beef, seemed much happier.

And so to dessert. Thinking of my perennial struggle to consume a full three courses, I'd ordered the cheese, biscuits and fruit, thinking that I could nibble away for some time. But my plate arrived with three substantial slabs of Stilton, Red Leicester and a brie. Plus a few biscuits, but no butter. The fruit was a shock – dried apricots and not even decent ones: those quite hard, orange dyed ones. If you're going to serve preserved fruit with cheese as a dessert, at least have the decency to get good ones – in the case of apricots, undyed organic ones, which are really moist and sweet, and a lovely caramel colour.

At least the wine – a 2009 South African Merlot – was quaffable. And quaff I did. I'm not sure whether I'll go back again.


  1. Yuck! The salad would have ruined my appetite. I don't think I'd go back to that pub again.

  2. I think you may have put your finger on it, Syb - they were trying to do more in volume than they could do well -a dn we all know where that leads. Are you ever tempted to contact the owner and let them know how you feel? I sometimes do that if I have any reason to think they might care. One local restaurant owner thanked me for letting her know that things were going downhill at her place. She's still in business, we're still friends and I'm still a patron.

  3. Thanks ladies – I think I will drop the place a line after the holiday, once everything has calmed down. But I don't think we'll do Christmas lunch there again.