Friday, January 29, 2010

The Exhibition Rooms, Crystal Palace

Ever since the League of Gentlemen aired the word "local" has taken on some rather dark and sinister overtones. So, that the Exhibition Rooms won the best new local restaurant accolade from Time Out back in September of last year seems to be a mixed blessing. Local seems to imply that you probably wouldn't go there if it wasn't within staggering distance of your house or that it's run by insane pig nosed serial killers. The latter, of course, is not true, the former might be.

A rummage around Google had me fearful before we'd even set foot in the place. From the slightly hysterical comments I'd read appended to reviews the staff were the rudest in the world. It was as if Bill Hicks and Jerry Sadowitz were running the place. This isn't true, unfortunately. The staff are very nice. Efficient, pleasant and run off their feet. They went careening around the place at foot tilt, sprinting away from the table before finishing their sentences. I got the feeling that they were a man down.

The dining room is reminiscent of The Garrison, without the studied distressing. It's a good space, open and buzzy but not deafening as it fills up. The same cannot be said for the horror show cocktail bar downstairs. A space so unremittingly awful that it inspires awe. It's like a febrile eleven tear olds idea of a cocktail bar. In 1997. Despite this, the bar staff were happily plying middle aged women in animal prints some good looking cocktails, so perhaps it all makes sense after a few measures.

Back in the dining room a ravioli of something red, something goats cheesey arrived. It was undercooked, sprinkled with cold unripe tomato and a jumble of ill considered wild rocket. So far, so average, though the freshly based bread was pleasant enough. Late arriving mains were a competent roasted poussin with a cranberry jus and a disappointingly dry and dense burger. The chips were nice. It was all pleasant enough, to be honest, but dull. I appreciate the pared down menu and the attempt to get back to some basics and I think the pricing is good, but I was waiting to be wowed, comforted or charmed. I wasn't. There are local gastro pubs doing this sort of shtick better, the Dartmouth Arms on a good night, for instance.

With all the restaurants along Westow Hill you'd have thought they would have to fight harder for the accolades at the Exhibition Rooms, but it's obviously found an audience who are happy with the slightly timewarped offering. I'll probably be happy enough to go back in a sort of default kind of way, but it'll need to up its game to become a looked forward to treat.

2 comments:

Lizzie said...

I went for dinner about a year or so ago and was appalled to find that my twice cooked pork belly was a breadcrumbed, deep fried spectacle. If there's a cut of meat you shouldn't do this too, it's pork belly.

MonkeyGland said...

Hmm, deep fried pork belly. Odd.