The Phene

All seriously food obsessed people have their favourite food critic. Mine (and I think I may not be alone in this) is Marina O’Loughlin who writes for the Metro. I have decided she may just be my ideal dining companion as our likes and dislikes are spookily similar. Giles Coren may praise an eatery which I then visit and think is pretentious and stuck up or Jay Rayner may bag a restaurant which I quite liked when I ate there. The chances are though, if Marina like’s a place I am going to like it as well so I do everything I can to get a booking. Similarly, if Marina slams a restaurant the likelihood of my dining experience there being enjoyable do not bode well.
Ricotta pasta
So, it was with some trepidation that I visited The Phene, a newly opened gastro pub in Plimlico following Marina’s damning with faint praise in her weekly column. The pub was opened two months ago by Lily Phene, a 23-year-old fashion designer who can now add the title of pub manager to her bow. Lily’s parents do own the excellent French restaurant Cheyne Walk Brasserie, just around the corner so it doesn’t seem unfair to assume she got a little help from Mum and Dad. The Phene certainly has its own girly stamp on it though from the Phene branded scented candles on each table, to the upstairs clothing “boutique” (which is really just a clothes rail) to the menu which appears to be designed for diet conscious females.
Sea bass
There’s nothing wrong with being careful about what you eat but I did find the references to “egg white only omlette” and the description of ice lollies as containing “0g fat and 70 calories” rather depressing. It’s not the sort of thing I want to think about when I am enjoying a meal at a pub. Ignoring the healthy options, the pasta with ricotta, marinated tomatoes and basil (£11) was good while not being transcandental. The pasta was cooked well to an al dente state but the dish was bland and boring. A better option was the plump fillet of sea bass (£16) which arrived on top of a spinach and mushroom risotto with a little sprig of tomatoes on the vine. The risotto was creamy although again a bit uninspired.


Chocolate fondant
The apple and blackberry crumble appeared to be some healthy take on a crumble as it was light on the crumble and heavy on the fruit. While I would have liked more crumble, the fruit had achieved a lovely state of stickiness and the dessert came with a pot of creme anglais to smother the fruit in (£6). The chocolate fondant (£6) was rich and velvety with a gooey store of chocolate sauce in the middle just the way the Master Chef judges like it although it had collapsed on itself a little. The Phene also offers the rather excellent option of having “shot glass puddings” for £2.50 which are small versions of all the desserts on offer so it is possible to eat a small selection of all the desserts on offer if you are feeling indecisive.
Apple crumble – where’s the crumble?
The Phene is not a destination for foodies but it does have a fun and buzzy front bar, a handy deli for salads, sandwiches and cakes along with a lovely outdoor terrace for sunny days. As is usual I find myself in agreement with Marina who found the food “peculiar” but noted The Phene was not without its own shambolic, girly charm.
Details: 9 Phene Street, Plimlico, SW3 5NY (Ph 020 7352 9898)
Damage: Reasonable
If you liked reading this you might be interested in my review of the nearby Cheyne Walk Brasserie or the excellent gastro-pub The Pantechnicon.

Phene Arms on Urbanspoon



  1. I share your Marina love. Hmm – got to be careful with those scented candles around the food too (unless it’s the faint smell of lemongrass incense while I’m eating Thai….)

  2. Sounds like you should’ve listened to Marina once again.

    I used to like Cheyne Walk brasserie very much (esp the goodies that came out of the wood-fired oven in the dining room), but after my last visit (admittedly two years ago now), I left thinking it was nothing special and not particularly easy to reach. What keeps you going back?

  3. Yep, Marina’s the critic whose reviews I find most useful, honest and enjoyable to read. I’d love to meet her in person, though I suspect it will never be!

    I love Charles Campion too, though as I don’t read any papers he writes for, haven’t read many of his reviews in recent years. But I still love him and his attitude to food and restaurants and people.

  4. Yes I definitely have critics or bloggers that I listen to more than others. I guess I have figured out that they have similar taste to me.

  5. I guess we’re all different, but I tend to really enjoy the reviews written by great cooks (rather than great tasters), somehow it speaks to me from a mutual respect angle. Great post.

  6. Greedy Diva – Yes scented candles are often a bit offputting as it distracts from the aromas of a food. Mind you in a pub it also masks the stale beer smell so that is a welcome thing!

    American in London – It is the same amount of time since I have been to Cheyne Walk so perhaps a repeat visit is in order

    Kavey – I will have to look out for Alan’s reviews

    Lorraine – Exactly! It is always good to find people with similar taste although people with different taste is also good because it challenges you.

    Anna Johnston – I guess it is all too easy to be a critic isn’t it? Still in defence of critics I think there is a real art to it and a good critic can be entertaining while also being informative about the restaurant.

  7. I too am a fan of Marina, and as a major foodie, the last thing I would want to see whilst deliberating over a menu would be anything calorie related. Going out for a dinner is a time to relax, not a time to fret over the dimples that may appear on my thigh as a result.

  8. Oh god I feel sooo inadequate now – this girl is a pub manager and a fashion designer at the age of 23?!

    *cringes at wasted life*

    I don’t even travel on the tube now to read Marina’s reviews! Will have to ask husband to bring copies home.

  9. “menu that appeals to diet-conscious females” makes my blood run cold.

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