Granger & Co is the London incarnation of the new restaurant by Bill Granger, Sydney's favourite foodie son. I am guessing this is due to the existence of a not too dissimilar “Bill’s” café place in the St Martin's Courtyard development. But I imagine there is some marketing spiel for this, like a different brand proposition or market positioning and so forth.
I’d been excited about Bill Granger’s London joint for years. The Piglet and I had once found jet-lagged solace at his Darlinghurst café at about 6am on our Sydney trip – a veritable desert oasis (mainly due to the time of day as we'd been up for about 3 hours already, wicked area usually) and it became one of our meals of legend. Those ricotta hotcakes do deserve their cult status.
Would Bill Granger be able to transfer his vision of breezy and effortless Sydney lifestyle to London’s grey and frantic streets, even at the relatively sedate end of Westbourne Grove?
The man himself was there, greeting some people, chatting to others, but also clearing tables and bringing dishes out. At work, he wasn't all white teeth and smiley, blond Super-Dad, like all those black and white promo pictures of him, but a man under pressure. Which is good to see – as it’s clearly not all photo-shoots and cookbooks.
The interior is a step away from bills. It’s a lot more mature and design conscious. I think the pared-back, stark, wood-and-white thing with the communal dining table would have worked in London too (it’s done plenty elsewhere) but for the premium wining and dining crowd, who’ll be key here rather than the brunch crowd, the urbane details are a sound decision. That said, it’s still laidback – the slatted wood ceiling is a particularly great feature.
Onto the food – some chilli olives in that perfect emerald shade are delicious. We also went for the fritto misto for a starter: tempura battered fennel, courgette and onion rings (£5.60). This was nicely presented but somewhat lacking in flavour – they could have salt-bathed it like at Zucca for example, or maybe had some spice in the batter. But it fell short of the mark a bit.
Still slightly obsessed with my Meat Liquor chicken wings, the chicken wingettes (£7.40) were much more accomplished. Nicely marinated and charred, but with some tender, juicy meat inside. Great sweet and spicy dipping sauce, and some salad and red onion jam to join them. The portion wasn’t as big as Yianni’s, but these were better quality meat.
The parmesan-crusted chicken schnitzel (£10.50) is another dish which reminds me of Sydney. In this case not bills but a place in Surry Hills called Bird Cow Fish where the schnitzel was the best I’ve ever tasted. Bill’s London version was well-cooked and again nicely presented, but again lacked a punch. The parmesan crust wasn’t strong enough and could have done with being mixed with more black pepper and again, some salt.
Seasoning is very subjective, but we’re not salt people (I never add them to chips for example) so I consider my palate at the more tolerant, less salt-hungry end of the spectrum. This wasn’t there. Still a good dish though, and easily remedied in the batter.
The crisp duck with plum sauce and clementines (£15.90) was delicious. A hearty, happy tasting duck leg with some semi-sticky rice and nestled on the sauce. It was the East Asian take on a plum sauce rather than a European one, fragrant with cinnamon and star anise. The clementines added another fruit zing to cut through the duck fat, and complemented the dish well as well as adding colour and juice.
We didn’t stay for dessert or coffee (Allpress of Redchurch, tick!) so that was that.
On to the service, which needs a mention. It’s a huge undertaking in any scenario, but with such high expectations and a great reputation, the pressure must be even worse. And so you would have everything down, surely. It’s been a year in the making. But there were some serious service let downs.
Our waiter didn’t know if we needed to order sides or if there were adequate carbs on two dishes. Such a schoolboy error – know your product! More senior looking members of staff spent more time chatting than helping resolve issues, of which I noticed several. Table issues, cold food and some very long waits for service. Bill Granger himself cleared a table whilst they stood about talking.
We asked one female server for the wine list as we’d finished our carafe as our mains arrived – she said she’d sent someone but nobody came and we had our mains with no wine. Or water – as this wasn’t offered. It was quite a tragic sight – the table was as bare as a canteen, rather than a sumptuous, uptown bistro. The 12.5% added to the bill smarted a little, as it’s not a very Australian thing to do yet somehow this was lost in the cultural exchange. Funny that.
I’m so glad to have Bill and his post-fusion Sydney concept here, but it does need a little tinkering around the service and possibly seasoning. Service in Sydney is the quintessential Australian chilled yet attentive: “too easy!” etc – knowledgeable about product and not missing a trick, yet friendly and laidback. We have the flat white, we now have the food - can we have the service too please? Without NY-quality waiting staff, the hectic thing just won’t work.
I’m pleased something noteworthy has opened in Notting Hill rather than Soho, Clerkenwell or Shoreditch. And teething problems must be allowed for. I’ll definitely be back – the pork shoulder pancakes, the burger and of course the brunch, all need to be sampled. But when you spend your main course without wine, looking forlornly around the room to catch someone’s eye, it's hard to remain so forgiving.