13 Exeter Street, London, WC2E 7DT
T – 020 7836 0651
It’s rather hard to review somewhere when attempting, the following day, to recall exactly what you scoffed – and drank – is a struggle. But this, perhaps, is a sign of a place where it is all too easy to relax, eat well and be very very merry.
After arriving at it’s discreet entrance – on a side street amongst the theatres in Covent Garden- and taking the steps that plunge to a dining room that’s dominated by a long American-style bar and walls adorned with theatrical paraphernalia (for me there’s something thrilling about drinking or eating underground – miles away from the real world outside) you find old-school service and thoroughly top-notch food. A terribly exciting combination.
After opening his first restaurant in New York theatre district in 1965 and finding huge success, Joe Allen decided to recreate the winning “recipe” (bam bam!) in London in 1977 and it has remained one of those wonderful not-so-secret places ever since. I had never heard of or seen the place, but last Christmas my friend Sam decided to begin, what I hope will grow into a long and healthy tradition, of hosting an informal, long and sozzled lunch there with friends. This year, as last, we pitched up after noon and drank and ate until dusk before strolling to Gordon’s Wine Bar, near the Embankment, to brave the London winter and sit outside drinking endless bottles of red wine and telling filthy jokes. The combination of my favourite bar (in Gordons, which also, with it’s smoky underground caverns, piles of cheese and bread and bloody good wine is the most romantic, wonderful place in London), of so many amazing friends in one spot and unfussy, classic grub in JA’s is an absolute stonking highlight of my year.
It is also very possible – if you’re not a filthy lush and insist on guzzling booze at every opportunity – to leave Joe Allens with a bulging wallet. The Saturday and Sunday brunch menus come in at £19.50 for 2 courses or £21.50 for 3 and include a glass of fizzy or a very welcome cocktail. There are late supper and pre-theatre specials too. Of course, on Saturday we ordered loads of wine, liquor coffees and bottles of fizz so our wallets we less than protruding…ahem. Between us we worked our way through celery soup, crab cakes, salads, olive bread, Spanish sausage, smoked haddock tart, sweet potato enchilladas and stilton and biscuits. Not all of it flawless but it all did the trick. I am yet to order an off-menu cheeseburger, which I’ve heard is fab, and I would love to drop by for a hangover breakfast one day. So while the food isn’t the best you’re going to ever have, the experience just might be. Intimate, classy, fun. I simply can’t wait for my festive feast next year.