Saturday, 2nd March 2019 – Parsons, London
In London for a theatre trip, it’s always a bit of a challenge deciding where to eat and when. This time, post seeing Gillian Anderson in the rather splendid “All About Eve” at the Noel Coward Theatre in the afternoon, and having fortified ourselves with cocktails at Seven Dials Café – Balans Soho Society, we headed for Endell Street and the teeny, tiny establishment that is Parsons, which I’d read reviews of previous that suggested we might rather enjoy the experience. Certainly what Jay Rayner had to say about it was very much in its favour, he being one of the critics I find I pretty much always agree with.
We arrived slightly early, and there was a certain amount of shuffling where the staff tried to figure out if they could seat us for a drink. Apparently if they couldn’t, and we had to go to our table we’d need to be out within 90 minutes. This wasn’t mentioned when I made the booking and is one of two small niggles I had about the whole experience. Given there were several empty tables, and no sign of anyone taking those tables, and we had 20 minutes to go before our booked table time, I really didn’t see how they could justify that. I do appreciate the place is small, but even so, this is the sort of thing that’s really quite annoying to the diner.
We settled in with a glass of Champagne each and did a bit of menu studying in advance, so that we wouldn’t need to waste time on the decision making process. What I did appreciate though, was that the staff we were dealing with were happy for us to order a small batch of “snacks” without ordering our next course. We started with the potted shrimp croquettes, which were simply fabulous, crunchy on the outside, soft and unctuous on the inside, and with a spicy kick. I’ve always had a soft spot for croquettes, they’re very much a comfort food, and these were spot on.
Along with them we had a brown crab pissaladiere, a small, soft “pizza” topped with onions cooked down till they were caramelized, mixed with brown crab meat, and dotted with tarragon mayonnaise. My only complaint was that there really wasn’t enough of it!
Next we shared a portion of sea trout tartare, with a bloody mary jelly and some rather fine mayonnaise. It was fiery, perky, and very tasty, and the jelly spread nicely through the dish, giving it quite a lift.
The other starter we had was octopus with duck fat potatoes, parsley and paprika. The octopus was tender, which can’t always be said for octopus, squid and the like. The potatoes added a lovely touch of luxury, with the duck fat soaking into them and also coating the octopus. It was pretty damn good, so we figured we were in safe hands.
That feeling of being in safe hands was to lead us to the only other mis-step of the evening, in this case the catch of day, a portion of monkfish cooked on the plancha. It wasn’t cheap (£32) but we do both love monkfish so we went for it. It was served with king cabbage and we ordered some frites to have with it, along with the cured cucumber and sea weed side dish. The frites were great, crisp on the outside, thin, fluffy on the inside, and really very good indeed.
The cucumber was juicy, but not watery, with a gentle, sweet cure, and a punch of umami from the sea weed. It too was more than up to expectations.
Regrettably, the monkfish was seriously overcooked, the texture heading from slightly bouncy to rock solid, and it was drier than it should have been. Given the price compared to everything else we’d ordered and eaten so far, it was more than a tad disappointing actually. The kitchen is very small and there seemed to be just one chef on, so maybe he took his eye off it or something. Either way, my advice would be go to Parsons but don’t get sucked in by the promises of the catch of the day board. Stick to the snacks and starters in the main.
Or if you really want to order a main, have the fish pie. This is a fabulous thing, rich, deep, with a lovely light crispy topping of mash. You can have it with or without an egg. We had it with the egg and cut into the surface to find a beautifully soft-boiled yolk that spread into the filling to amazing effect. It was also rather bigger than it looked and we couldn’t finish it, so we asked nicely and the charming waitress packed it all up in foil for us to take home. It made an excellent lunch the day after actually.
With all that we drank a Jurançon Sec from Domaine Montesquiou chosen from what is a very smart wine list with some interesting choices. I don’t know who is responsible for it, though I suspect it’s the people on the other side of the road at 10 Cases, as the two places are owned by the same people. Either way, I like the wine list, I loved most of the food, the staff were lovely, and it’s a buzzy little place. It’s just a shame about the monkfish and the 90 minute rule.