There is nothing I like more than going out for supper with friends, be it in the local curry house or a Michelin stared gastronomic extravaganza.
Luckily I live just off the Fulham Road where the leisure pound is, of course, high and there are a legions of decent mid-range restaurants with a great atmosphere, decent wine and varying levels and modes of food.
Needless to say competition for custom is intense.
Last week I went to a restaurant that specialised in chargrilled hanger steaks called Hanger, which is near Fulham Broadway, and an Italian on the New King’s Road called Santa Maria.
I had experiences that varied in quality.
The hanger steak, or Onglet in French, is a cut of steak taken from the lower belly of the cow and is renowned for its full flavour. An old wives tale has it that hanger steak was once known as “butcher’s steak”, because the men with the meat cleavers would often keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale.
I adore hanger steak and, of course, it is splendidly the only steak available at the eponymous restaurant – a home-made burger and a vegetarian cauli steak are also available.
I entered with high hopes. Sadly, on a quiet Tuesday, my dining companions and I, after a glowing welcome from the staff, were left to sit unattended for ten minutes.
I began to sober up and get hungry, which is never a good mood to have in a restaurant. After what seemed a long enough time to grow a beard, our waitress appeared like an oasis in a desert. We briskly ordered a bottle of Argentinian merlot.
She sauntered off for another decent period of time: I iterate, the restaurant was not busy.
Eventually another waiter arrived, wineless, and we decided to make hay whilst we could: We ordered two large steaks and a few sides between three and waited for our wine.
The wait continued. Still wineless I decided to nip to the lavatory but when I asked for directions I came across all three of the staff standing by the bar gossiping. However, they were most helpful at directions to the loo. The wine still lay in the rack.
I returned to the table where miraculously the wine had arrived. Our long wait for mains spanned almost 40 minutes and two cigarettes. That said, when it did arrive, the food looked great and the steak were cooked to perfection.
However, sides, where a chef can have fun and do something interesting, were adequate but not innovative: the triple cooked chips with garlic & rosemary salt was excellent but the charred ‘market’ tender stem broccoli and balsamic glaze were as exciting as John Major, though they were cooked perfectly
The spiced mac ‘n’ cheese with parmesan crust would have been interesting but at 8 o’clock on a quiet Tuesday, Hanger had run out of macaroni.
Which was a shame. So I asked our gallant waitress, who was surprisingly stood by our table, if we could have some cauliflower cheese because cauliflower steak was on the menu. She declined, changing her reason, citing the reason that they didn’t have any sauce. I found this hard to swallow seeing as the chef, who was turning out excellent food, would almost definitely have butter, flour and milk in his kitchen.
I know that changing a menu is 100 per cent not a customer’s prerogative but the waitress didn’t even bother to check with kitchen.
Needless to say, we didn’t stay for dessert or coffees; one feels such a sorrow for the poor chef who is cooking like a dream but is let down by clumsy, indolent service.
Two days later I joined a few old chums at Santa Maria Pizzeria Chelsea. Owners Pasquale Chionchio and Angelo Ambrosio initially opened Sacre Cuore in Kensal Rise. They then followed it with the first Santa Maria, in Ealing, and then this year opened up a second Santa Maria in Chelsea; next to the lovely Rose pub.
They produce top class Italian fare, combining simplicity with a warm atmosphere and high quality well sourced ingredients.
We wet our whistles in the Rose’s sumptuous beer garden and sauntered over to the pizzeria. We were greeted by Italian staff who, for want of a better phrase, were ‘fresh off the boat’.
In marked contrast to our experience at Hanger, our waiter was attentive, witty and dying to serve us some booze. We duly obliged and ordered a bottle of Prosecco and a host of starters; home-made focaccia, olives the size of your fist, oils, and a plate of antipasti meats and pickles.
We ordered pizzas of varying guises, which are made on site, as we did a litre of the house Rosso, which was both decent on the palate and the wallet. We watched in awe as the fresh doughs were spun, sauced and cooked in the open plan kitchen. I had a delightful meat festival – which included my favourite piquant sausage Nduja – on my crafted sourdough base.
The restaurant was full of the sparkling aromas of baked pizza dough, fresh herbs and the buckets of the sizzling chilli oil that we insisted on drowning our crusts with. Another litre later – NB. We were four! – and il conto arrivied. We speculated on the price, which was spectacularly £28 per head. Less than the humourless Hanger.
Santa Maria is a must and set in a beautiful part of London. Furthermore, this old cove has taken a shine to the place and has returned since, so, dear reader, you may spy old Splendid red nestled in the corner anon with a little glass of their humble house red to wash down his pizza.