A guest review by my friend Lynn.
It’s freezing. And there’s a massive gap in my work schedule, and I haven’t seen my friend for ages. It’s definitely time for a pub lunch.
The Clarence is a modern gastropub on Whitehall, all lead-light windows, fashionable grey paintwork and amusing print fabrics. It’s clearly popular; at midday on a Tuesday in February, it was already pretty full, with a mixed business and leisure clientele. I arrived to find my friend already installed next to the window and was glad of a friendly welcome and the offer of a drink. A quick glance at the specials board showed a couple of vegetable-based dishes and I sighed with relief, which may sound odd, but I had taken a look at the menu online the previous evening and winced at the quotes at the bottom of the pdf:
“Vegetarian” – old Indian word for bad hunter! (Ray Brown)
If God wanted us to be vegetarians why did he make animals out of meat” (John Cleese)
On a brighter note, the Geronimo Inns group, to which The Clarence belongs, is keen on local and British produce, and we enjoyed poring over the illustrated map of the British Isles, showing their suppliers’ locations.
The menu at The Clarence tends towards the robust; meat pies, steak, burgers, a ploughman’s lunch based around a pork pie, fish and chips. Helly opted for beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, followed by a bacon and cheese burger with chips. I ordered the specials – broccoli soup, and then a goat’s cheese, onion and spinach tart with salad – and, because Helly says it’s chip week, chips.
The soup was rich and tasty and the salad was nicely balanced, with a tarragon dressing. My friend’s burger apparently tasted as good as it looked, the smokey bacon and the brioche-style bun winning particular approval. The chips were proper chips, and there were dainty pots of relish to go with the burger. My tart (which the waiter had suggested might be intended as a starter*) was delicious and surprisingly substantial, bound with egg and with layers of potato that made the greedy chips redundant. All of which meant that the pudding we had promised ourselves might be unnecessary.
In a fit of sheer gluttony, however, we ordered one portion of sticky toffee pudding to share. Just as well. The portion was extremely generous and we were defeated by what turned out be a not-particularly-sticky date sponge crammed with walnuts in a nicely flavoured (but cold) toffee sauce.
Two starters, two mains (plus extra chips), one pudding, one cider and three coffees came to £48.50. Staff were well-informed and interested, the service considerate and quite leisurely (probably taking the cue from us, as we were very slow to order).
*If this was intended as a starter, there was only one meat-free main on the menu, a pie containing nuts. I do wish restaurants wouldn’t do this. Aside from the assumption that vegetarians don’t have preferences or want to choose what to eat, I have a nut allergy and I am by no means the only nut-allergic vegetarian I know. It is embarrassing to have to make a fuss and ask for something different when friends or family have chosen the restaurant. And it would also mean that two of the meat-free starters were pastry tarts and the only main a pie, which cuts down the reasonable permutations for a meal.
Is it just that restaurateurs have a gripe with vegetarians and don’t want us there (and therefore by extension, parties including our meat-eating family and friends, and friends who only eat meat in halal restaurants etc)? If so, I’m disappointed. The UK has a much better record on this than other parts of the world, and whilst friends from the US have been at pains to take me to exclusively vegetarian restaurants, and while I love the range of vegetarian and vegan places in New York, I have tended to favour mixed ones here. For a long time, vegetarian restaurants in the UK were wholefood places with a nut fixation, which I just don’t like. However, the fashion for much shorter menus seems to be giving rise to a much more hostile environment. Fortunately for me, my family have never been prepared for us to use restaurants that offer only one vegetarian dish, even if I am willing to do so. Maybe I need to take more of a stand too.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of The Clarence. Many thanks for our lunch.