I generally tend to avoid writing negative things about restaurants, because typically hiccups in service or execution happen, restaurants have an off night, or whatever. Plus, it's just not my style to speak ill of people, particularly hard working people (as nearly all restaurant people are). And anyway, it's generally unnecessary -- this board is probably the single greatest panel of restaurant critics ever assembled, and issues always come to light without my attention. But I think I'd do you all a disservice not to share, so here goes:
My dinner tonight at Notting Hill was not good. The service had a couple minor issues (missing bread and coffee), but our waiter was great -- attentive, professional, and above all, friendly. And the building and room are gorgeous, with a nice fire. The problem was the food. We started with a butternut squash soup and a Camembert and salad appetizer. My companion, a European, immediately noted that the soup tasted like "tinned oxtail broth." However, as an American, my take was more "Campbell's Beef Vegetable Soup." I'm not sure if the issue was cheap stock, but the soup was barely touched. We were hungry, so we ate a bit more of the Camembert, after we cut off the heavy peanut crust that had no business being there. (It was supposed to come with "braeburn apple peanut brittle," which is rather different than this ghastly combination). Also, perhaps I am wrong, but the Camembert reminded me of one I've purchased at an average grocery store and was served too cold.
With the entrees, we didn't fare much better. The lobster fondue was an unmitigated disaster. It was unlike the one Free Wilma was served. I have no idea if this is what it was, but imagine mac and cheese with frozen spinach and a small--slightly-dirty-tasting--lobster from H Mart and you'd have the idea. It was a fairly meaty dish, but I'm quite certain that I've never before left that much lobster on a plate. Our rockfish entree was better, but not by much. The fish itself was cooked well, though perhaps a bit over what I like. The issue was that it tasted fishier than rockfish should. If the skin hadn't been left on, I'd have sworn that it was bluefish (though not a particularly good bluefish). Given that it was supposedly rockfish, which I've probably consumed more than any other fish (I'm a DC native, and have even hauled in a few big ones in my day), it would seem to indicate a freshness issue. It was also served with a too-heavy, brown, cream sauce and potatoes. Upon trying it, my guest reminded me of a longer saying that included "chef's cover up their mistakes with sauce, doctor's cover up theirs with dirt." I commented that this one appeared to be covered with both. Between the two of us, less than a third of the slightly small portion of fish was attempted.
So, what was good? The highlight of the meal, by a long shot, was the Garcon Mauvais Bordeaux (2009) -- an average, but tasty, merlot-based Bordeaux. And the Pedro Jimenez Sherry that, rather than risking pastry, we split for dessert (the pastry chef may be fantastic, but at this point something from a bottle seemed a safer bet). I also had a regular coffee that was unremarkable but fine; while my guest's espresso was "bad" and went nearly untouched.
This meal cost about $155, pre-tip. Thank god the company, a rather good sport, was worth that much. And it was a Tuesday night, so maybe this was the B-team. If so, they should close Tuesdays. If not, they should just close. I'm sorry to say that, but the food I had was really that bad: poorly conceived, bad ingredients, and expensive.
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