25 July 2011

The Duke of Sussex

I'm always slightly suspicious of pubs that do food other than pub food. I've accepted the gastro pub and since the smoking ban I actually prefer them... they seem to smell less like innards than pub pubs... well in London anyway. So although I love tapas and it looks like it should be nice I've always been a little suspicious of the Duke of Sussex in Chiswick which famously does a mainly Spanish menu. However, Joe decided I needed to be taken out for a Friday date night there when on Wednesday morning I announced that I felt like I was having a mental meltdown. I was actually pretty impressed with this idea as even though every time we drive past it I say 'I wonder what it's like... it looks nice...' I have been married long enough to know that 99% of these kinds of musings are completely ignored.

On arrival it was as I expected from a swanky Chiswick pub - floor boards, wooden tables, chalk board menus and waiting staff in black shirts (not noticeably referring to political preferences) but there is something compelling about the restaurant area. It is still floor boarded and wooden tabled but there are genuinely old, distressed mirrors around one corner of the wall and the height of the ceiling is accentuated by curved arches, art deco chandeliers and old fashioned sky lights surrounded by painted cherubs. We could have eaten in the large but attractive garden but I whinged about it being cold (and it did in fact rain half way through dinner so there) and the restaurant did feel special and separate from the pub area even though we were right next to it.

Time Out hate this restaurant - they didn't like the food or the slow service - but Time Out users all seem to have much better experiences and give it 5 out of 5. Knowing all this and dining with an ex-restaurant review I was prepared to be open minded bordering on ruthless but I have to say I came out definitely more in the 5 star camp than the other way. We were seated promptly, given menus to look at and the wine list to peruse.

The menu is a really well thought out mix of tapas and larger main courses so you can either have a mix of both or go all out on the tapas. I thought we were doing the latter but Joe had his eye on the seafood paella and as I'm not allowed to eat prawns until November I decided to have marinated skirt steak and chips - not very Spanish but with yummy alioili. So we chose three tapas dishes to share as our starters - chiporones, pinchos morunos and chorizo con huevos.

Chiporones are basically calamari but not rings of squid they are just bits of the small squid fried. These were yummy and although I like mine as battery as possible these were done just enough to be tasty without making you feel like a heart attack was imminent - less naughty than I'm used too but very appropriate to start off a big supper. I was against getting the pinchos morunos, marinated beef skewers, as I was having steak for my main course - traditionally these are made with marinated pork but this beef version was absolutely delicious and I would definitely have again even with a whole steak coming later. Chorizo con huevos - chorizo sausage with eggs - was probably the weakest of the tapas that we tried but still delicious, it's just that I've had better, but that was in Spain so that's probably not really fair!

Joe's seafood paella looked and smelled delicious and contained enough prawns, clams and mussels to justify it's title. Maybe I'm a cynic or I've been living in London too long but I am no longer surprised when dishes like this arrive with barely a smattering of the good stuff - I frequently get Greek salad with one small cube of tasteless feta. But this really did looked and tasted like the real deal. My skirt steak was beautifully marinated and cooked medium rare automatically. As much as I like the courtesy of being asked how I like my steak cooked (rare... very rare) I really respect chef's who know how they want their food to be eaten. Risky but worth it in my mind.

We were too full for pudding so we sat happily sipping the rest of our wine - very nice Spanish red that I can't remember the name of. One thing I would say is the service - although mostly prompt we were left waiting to order a drink for quite a long time and when we were being served the staff seemed stressed and as if we were slightly taking up their time. Never were they impolite but I slightly felt that perhaps the Duchess of Cambridge was sneakily sitting at another table they had been sent into a flustery tail spin. Our food was all on time - we arrived just before 8 and were ready to leave at 9.30 having taken lots of time over our food and wine - there was just something about the staff that made me feel slightly like their lives would have been easier if we weren't there. Sort of understandable (but never acceptable) in a massively busy, London restaurant but we were one of three tables when we arrived at the Duke of Sussex so a little surprising there.

A definite contender for future birthdays - I think this would be a great place to meet for dinner and then drinks afterwards - you'd feel well fed and relaxed and could move into the lovely pub area for drinks after. I really enjoyed it, will definitely be going back and what was so lovely about this pub was the lovely atmosphere and having a menu where I could immidiately see a whole dinners-worth of other things I wanted to try out.

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