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.
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.
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.
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)
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.