When I first started working in the City in 2004, I had a blast. I was working with 60 responsibility-free graduates (I was older having faffed around abroad after Uni). About three times a week we’d go out boozing, inevitably ending up in Apt or singing Duran Duran while pole dancing in Reflex. It was le meat market – drunken suits, sambucca shots, cheesy music and getting home at 3am on a school night. I loved it.
However, I am now older and (ahem) wiser. I rarely go out to City bars for post-work drinks, preferring Shoreditch, Soho or Borough. My problems with City bars are: (i) they are too full; (ii) they are expensive and too many people drink champagne, both of which makes me wonder where my hard earned cash goes; and (iii) they are often le meat market playing cheesy music. Which I used to like but I don’t now. Hmmm.
As a helpful comparative guide, I summarise below the venues for last week’s meals. I managed to rack up 2 dinners and 1 lunch out, pretty good considering I’m on a diet and trying to save money, well done me. Here’s a summary:
- Cinammon Kitchen – 1 starter & side, 1 glass wine, 1 vodka tonic (actually 2, god bless happy hour) = £20 each. Time spent = 1 hour. Amount of time spent moaning about style over substance = 10 minutes.
- Kenza – 1 main, 1 cappucino = £15 each (£25 if full price). Time spent = 1.5 hours. Amount of time thinking I would never pay full price = 5 minutes.
- Polpo – Waiting time for a table at 8pm on a Thursday night = 1.5 hours. Time spent considering this before walking out = 0.25 minutes.
- Bistro 1 – 2 bottles of wine between 3 (oops, hic), 1 starter, 1 main, hours of delicious gossip, laughter and heart to hearts = £15 each. Time spent = 3.5 hours ish (hazy). Amount of people turning up extremely late and still being able to order = 1.
Of course I’m comparing apples with pears, but my point is why spend tons of money when you can have a far better all-round experience elsewhere? Where you don’t feel like a chav for ordering minimally because the menu is so expensive, you can eat and drink to your heart’s content without breaking the bank, and hang around as long as you like without being pushed to move on? Like most people, I like paying for a great meal on special occasions – Upstairs or Chez Bruce, Great Queen Street or Andrew Edmunds – but these places feel great value and the experience is special enough to make you come back for more. Other nights when I just want to natter with friends, I’d rather go cheap and cheerful.
The Cinammon Kitchen, 9 Devonshire Square, London, EC2M 4WY, 020 7626 5000
I’m going to stop writing things down while I eat out. It’s turning me into a ranting mongo (which I expressly said I didn’t want to become) and drives my dinner companions crazy. What’s the point of going for a meal if you pick out all the negative?
However, I couldn’t find a whole heap of positive about this place. I’d heard amazing things about the Cinnamon Club and still want to go for the experience of eating in this grand Westminster library. So, I went to The Cinnamon Kitchen with Pablo on Wednesday night with high hopes – sadly you can only get the toptable deal if you eat super early or super late so we paid full price. Like Kenza, it’s in the newly developed Devonshire Square – a cute little City within the City, sparkling and new, full of bars and restos, and outside drinking terraces – very Canary Wharf. First stop was the Anize bar which is gorgeous – pink walls, ethnic lighting, cushions. I ordered a vodka tonic and they gave me 2 – happy hour apparently – good start. But then they ruined it. The music was terrible – N-Dubz anyone – Na Na Naa-eee No thanks. Why do people think if you work in the City you must have shit music taste? Secondly, a projector showing “Viva” on TV – errr decide if you are a sports bar or a wine bar please. Finally, many people were drinking champers – shouldn’t annoy me but made me feel inadequate that I couldn’t afford to do the same.
When we sat down in the dining room, I hated the decor. With the high roof, long tables and bright lighting, I felt like I was back in my school dinner hall, or as Pablo pointed out, at a holiday camp. When the waiter came over, I felt rather intimidated ordering water and a starter as a main – which I suspect means it was all a bit snooty (FYI the menu on toptable is slightly misleading – the duck at £10 is a starter.) The other problem is that it was super empty and with around 10 waiters swarming around the table, I felt pressured to eat and leave – in fact they tried to clear my plate before I’d finished and with the confusion of different waiters I had to ask for my glass of wine three times before I got it.
The food, however, was wonderful. Pablo’s tilapia was succulent and delicate and my duck with greens on the side were delicious. Only problem is there wasn’t enough of either. It’s very British of me to expect to stuff my face when I go out to eat, but when I suggested to Pablo we grab a Big Mac on the way home, I was only semi-joking.
In the end, we’d finished our meal within an hour – great if you’re in a rush, terrible if you’re there to enjoy the evening and chat to a mate. I’d therefore only recommend going here if you’ve got wads of cash or you’re not paying – it’s only a hop skip and a jump to Brick Lane where you can get a belly full of curry and a bottle of wine for a tenner. Or it might be a good place for after work drinks. If you like champagne and R n B.
Kenza, 10 Devonshire Square, London, EC2M 4YP, 020 7929 5533
I’ve never been to Kenza at night, where apparently there are belly dancers and such to liven things up. But I’ve been twice now for lunch, the second time last week with my ex-workmate and yummy mummy friend Ingrid.
Kenza gives a great first impression. You walk along a red carpet, open two grand wooden doors, down winding stairs and into a Moroccan harem. Then a surprise – it’s pretty much ENTIRELY empty, even at 12.30pm on a Friday lunchtime. It filled up more as lunch went on (mainly with large work groups) but still the atmosphere was pretty lacking. Which explains the toptable offer…
…We managed to use toptable’s 50% off food offer which made the meal good value, otherwise I would have balked at the price. Problem with these offers is that you often feel that you are paying what the food is actually worth and this may undervalue the brand. As with Gigalum and the Buddha Bar where I also used toptable’s 50% offer, I was happy paying the reduced rate, but didn’t think the food was worth paying double. How these restos can convince cheapskates like me to pay full price, I don’t know. Even a sighting of that Carol from Loose Women at Gigalum didn’t convince me I’d go back.
As with Cinammon Kitchen, the food itself is very good, although not consistent across the menu. The starter mezze (which I had the time before) were lovely – juicy hummous (sp?); pastries filled with spicey lamb, feta and halloumi; lamb and cracked wheat parcels; deep fried baby squid. Actually, I think I’d pay full price for the mezze, they were that good. This time, we were pushed for time (pesky work) so we only had mains – both of us had the Mashawy mixed grill. Having adored the food in both Turkey and Morocco, mixed grill is often a rather boring but delicious choice – with juicy shish kebab and spicey lamb kofta. Although I could have tried some of their more interesting sounding dishes, this should be their bread and butter, no? I was disappointed – the meat wasn’t that tasty and a little overdone. The biggest crime is that this dish is on the menu for £19.50 full price – in my humble opinion le rip-off.
So again, a brilliant place to be taken if you’re rich or not paying, and perhaps a fantastic venue at night – but (maybe its the mix of Scottish and Yorkshire genes in me), I just don’t think these places are worth the money unless you use a special offer!
If anyone has tips about post-work venues with good atmosphere, great food and good value then I’d love to hear from you!