Theatre/Food 2011 – The Childrens Hour, Val Taro, Eat at 23, London, Brackley

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Saturday, 12th/Sunday, 13th February 2011 – The Childrens Hour, Val Taro, Eat at 23, London, Brackley

On Saturday we made what was a rare trip to the theatre. Given the costs of train travel to London for two people, along with the cost of tickets, it’s not something we’ve been able to do that often in recent years, but it was Lynne’s birthday and she was keen so we booked tickets for The Children’s Hour at The Comedy Theatre just off Leicester Square. Although some aspects of the work are inevitably somewhat out of date now after over 70 years, and while some parts of the plot don’t make a huge amount of sense, the main performances really were impressive, the young actress playing Mary stealing the show from under everyone’s noses. Thoroughly enjoyable, which at £60 a seat you could argue it damn well needed to be! I would recommend it to anyone in London with time on their hands and who would be willing to queue for the £15 day tickets.

We rounded off the day by meeting up with friends for dinner at the Italian we frequent on a regular basis, Val Taro, and eventually got home at around midnight – it would have been a lot sooner if it hadn’t been for London Midland trains relying on voluntary overtime from their drivers to keep their service running smoothly.

And then they’re surprised when it doesn’t happen… The result was several cancelled trains and we ended up on the packed 10.34 which meant we’d been sitting around the station for almost an hour by then. London Midland appears to be run by idiots!

On Sunday we finally got up around 10am, which meant I’d managed to make up on lost sleep from the night before (the joys of the menopause!) and headed out to Brackley to try out the new restaurant we’d discovered the weekend before (Eat@23). We were booked in for lunch, and sadly it turned out we were the only people who were. That seemed a bit of a shame, but I guess it’s early days yet and given how difficult it has been to get anything decent to eat in Brackley in the past it may take a while for people to realise what they’ve got now. We started with a glass of prosecco, while we studied the starter options and the wine list.

The main was going to be roast beef (it was that or the vegetarian choice) but the starters were eithe a pea and ham soup with a scotch egg, or sea bream with spinach and a lemon and caper sauce. Lynne wouldn’t have the soup, as she hates peas, so she went for the fish.

I on the other hand, have a weekness for pea soup in all its many and varied forms, so it was soup for me.

The fish was light and perfectly cooked, and the sauce had a refreshing tang to it from the lemon. The soup was wonderful too, with fresh peas decorating it, and with strands of slow cooked ham layered through it. As for the Scotch egg, it was pretty remarkable, the casing warm with a fabulous crunchy crust, and a lovely soft yoke.

The mains were not as spectacular as the starters, but then it’s hard to show off with a roast with the normal trimmings. The vegetables were cooked to perfection though, as was the Yorkshire pudding, and two out of the three roast potatoes were also spot on, crispy on the outside and soft inside.

I would have liked more gravy with it, and would also have liked our waitress to be a bit more proactive, offering horseradish sauce without having to be asked for it, but again she’s obviously new and lacking in a bit of confidence at the moment. That was shown when we ordered a second glass of prosecco, and they’d run out of the white. They had a rose, but she had to go and get the chef to sort that out; he came and offered us the alternative by which point we’d almost finished the starter we wanted it with.

I guess she’s still gauging what she is and isn’t allowed to do and I think from what we saw of her that she will blossom as she gets used to the job and finds her feet. She was very sweet and willing, just rather too diffident at the moment.

For pudding we decided again to go with different options, and we would start with a portion of the treacle tart with vanilla ice cream and two spoons, before moving on to a cheese selection and two knives. The treacle tart really was spectacular, both in flavour and texture, and was, I reckon, the best treacle tart I have ever eaten anywhere, and that’s saying something because I’ve encountered some good ones in my time.

We knew the cheese would be good, and sure enough it also didn’t disappoint. There was comté, mimolette, chevre of some description, Époisses and a blue cheese.

Again, the waitress hadn’t quite nailed it, and she had to go and investigate when I asked her what the other two cheeses were. It’s a little detail I know but seriously it’s indicative of care and professionalism to know these things, so hopefully next time she’ll ask in advance so she can tell diners what is in front of them. All in all, it was a good meal out, and the chef is a friendly sort of soul, more than happy to talk to us about his work, and his hopes for the future of the restaurant – and to give me a quick tour of his rather small kitchen when I expressed an interest. We’ll go there again I’m sure, possibly for the “Auberge” days on Tuesday when there will be a three course no choice dinner for £12 a head – a bargain by anyone’s lights I suspect, and a good chance for the chef to try out various dishes.

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