I was in two minds about whether I would enjoy dining at the Stoke House, the latest addition to London Victoria’s ever-expanding Nova Food complex. The thing is, I don’t eat meat and this particular restaurant’s specialty is traditional cuts of meat, which it smokes on the premises. There were, however, fish and vegetarian options on the interesting-looking menu and the experiences I’ve had at Nova thus far have been good, so we decided to go for it.
Our lunch got off to a bumpy start. I arrived 20 minutes early and was advised that, as the restaurant only had two lunch bookings, I could choose our table. I plumped for one tucked away from the main entrance and was assured by the waitress that, as soon as Lisa arrived, she would let me know. Half an hour later, there was still no sign of my usually-punctual friend, who I assumed must have been held up on public transport. About to call her, I looked up to see…Lisa standing in front of me, looking distinctly unamused. It transpired that she had arrived just moments after me but been told that I was not yet here and positioned at the far end of the restaurant, where I couldn’t see her. Despite the fact that (i) the restaurant was virtually empty, and (ii) that Lisa had given the waitress my name, no-one had twigged that we were together.
Not a great start to our eagerly-anticipated meal, but could the restaurant’s food make up for its lack of organisation? Well: sort of. Given the nature of the menu, it didn’t take long for me to choose my starter of Asparagus with Smoked Butter, followed by Wood-Roasted Salmon with Fennel & Watercress. Those are two of my favourite foods, so I was very much looking forward to both courses.
Alas, the Asparagus, which we both ordered, was a let-down. Bearing in mind that this is the middle of asparagus season and the shops are full of plump, juicy spears, what arrived on our table was some of the spindliest asparagus I’ve ever seen. Even worse, it hadn’t been seasoned, although it did have an unfortunate citrusy tang, akin to what I imagine Lemon Fairy Liquid tastes like.
Fortunately, we both liked the wine we had chosen, a 2015 Viňa Edmara Viognier. Mind you, at £27 a bottle, I would expect to like it – even as the cheapest wine on the list (yes – ouch).
On to the main course, and we were pleased with our respective choices of lamb and salmon – in fact, my piece of salmon was the nicest piece of fish I’ve eaten in quite some time, cooked and seasoned to perfection. Lisa was equally complimentary about her Slow-Roasted Cornish Lamb Belly with Salsa Verde. Said lamb, we were told, is reared and grazed on Cornish moors, allowing the meat to develop a great texture and flavour.
Again, however, the vegetables were disappointing – the Broccoli & Green Bean Salad with Chilli & Garlic dressing was soggy; usually, I love greens but these I had to force myself to eat. Stoke House’s website states that its bowls of sides and salads are “vibrant, tasty and seasonal”; I beg to differ.
The Garlic & Thyme Roasted New Potatoes with Cornish Sea Salt, on the other hand, were a triumph over which we nearly came to blows (just kidding, but they really were very good).
Neither of us felt like tackling dessert after the mixed bag of food we’d just encountered, but we were put under no pressure to vacate our table and able to linger happily over our wine and catch up on all the news.
Would I return? That’s a tricky one. If I was a committed carnivore, then possibly, or to check out the cocktail list one evening – but otherwise, probably not. I can’t fault the attractive aesthetics or the friendly staff – the restaurant manager, in particular, was adorable and for his sake I wish this was a more favourable review – but considering what we paid, the overall experience was disappointing.
Professional chef I may not be, but I do know how to cook and season vegetables and I expect more from a restaurant proclaiming it’s the best at what it does. Specialising in meat does not mean doing so to the detriment of the other dishes, and the wine list is expensive even for central London – so all things considered, I doubt I’ll be back. A shame.