Matthew Norman The Guardian, Saturday 14 March 2009
Restaurant: The Church Green
With the post of poet laureate vacant, and paying heed to a recent report claiming that heavy users of social networking sites risk untold damage to their attention sp … sorry, lost my train of thought. Anyway, with the above factors in mind, I am pleased to audition for the former and assist the latter by compressing this review into a single line. Those with the will are welcome to plough on, but all you need know about The Church Green is this: it’s a slapdash mishmash verging on a car crash.
In its defence, the day we visited it was barely a month old under new owner/chef Aiden Byrne, a cook with the CV (the youngest ever Michelin star winner) to match the ego implied by all the references to his recipe book and telly appearances. Even so, when you’re charging full whack, with no set menu, you have to hit the ground running, not crawling with petty incompetences.
The lips of my cousin, Nick, a stoic veteran of dining disappointment, became pursed at once, and no wonder. At these prices, one expects such fripperies as a working hand dryer in the loo and linen napery; or at least, when the dryer breaks down, that someone would transfer the paper napkins to the gents for that elite corps of male punters without a fetish for damp toilet roll.
The decor does nothing to dissipate the sense that this is unholy wedlock between amateur hour and clip joint. Blimey, it’s a mess. Here a hideously carpeted conservatory, there fancy wine labels curiously nailed to the ceiling. Hither pointless, trendy abstracts, thither sepia prints. This way columns clad in swirly wallpaper, that way a patch of brickwork wall. Lo, a fake coal fireplace, yonder a neat pile of logs… It’s as if a designer with Facebook-induced ADHD mislaid the Ritalin on a tour of closing-down sales, and put it all together in seven minutes.
All of this puts incredible pressure on the kitchen, and while Byrne is technically sound, on this form he lacks the prodigious brilliance required to surmount these self-created obstacles. The food had its moments, but not nearly enough of them. Besides, this watered-down, semi-simplified version of Michelin poncery is wrong for the times, the building and the area, all of which scream out for the kind of earthy, big-flavoured retro-cooking (scotch eggs, hotpots) that Heston Blumenthal pioneered at the Hind’s Head.
Nick was content enough with his starter, a delicate avocado mousse leavening inexpensive beetroot-cured smoked salmon, but my slices of roasted venison loin, though deep red and full of fun, were spongy, and came with not just a sludgy fig purée but glacial slices of fig (a bit belt and braces on the laxative front; this is not a geriatric care home) just liberated from the fridge. My main course, though, was all over the shop, a piece of decent but marginally overcooked monkfish covered in a garlicky green gunk redolent of Noel Edmonds’ gunge tank, and not helped one iota by sharp pickled peppers and far too buttery strips of razor clam in the shell. Nick’s first choice main of Goosnargh duck breast was off, we were told, on the bewildering ground that the chef “is still prepping the duck for tonight”. Sloppy, sloppy and thrice sloppy. So he went for its erstwhile neighbour, roasted Goosnargh chicken with pea lasagne, which had excellent depth of flavour even if the skin could have been crispier.
By the time a pair of average puds - a just-too-sweet chocolate mousse and a cloying lime cheesecake saved by delectable cubes of mango and pineapple - had come and gone, the Whispering Quotient, that indicator of how unrelaxing punters find their surroundings, was nudging the crucial 80% mark. Meanwhile, the general air of confusion was confirmed by a musical shift from impro jazz to the theme from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. After too little of the former, far too much of the middle and an abundance of the latter, we didn’t linger. As we raced for the door, the seal was put on a dismal lunch by the sight of a workman, whose wood-planing machine had won the war for aural supremacy with Ennio Morricone, ambling out beside us in filthy overalls. Even in the plushly moneyed land of the footballer’s wife, this is one hell of a weird time to be charging West End prices for a work in progress.