Thursday, July 24, 2008

Be minted at St Germain

St Germain

89 -90 Turnmill Street, London, EC1M 5QU

020 7336 0949

This lovely french restaurant near Farringdon tube station (follow the billboard directions), describes its style as 'Paris meets New York', a statement I'm inclined to agree with - this is one chilled out, yet very chic venue.

We arrived early for our 7.30pm booking and felt obliged to take advantage of the 2 for 1 on cocktails (between 5-7pm). The barman, who appeared to the the head waiter as well, was very friendly and accommodating. When the Veggie wanted a non-alcoholic drink - not included in the 2 for 1 - he said he would provide my long mango and gin cocktail at half price, making it a steal at 3.25p. When I explained we had booked a table he made life easier by adding the cocktails to our tab and also asked us where we would like to sit, in a booth or at a table? Grateful to be given the choice, we opted for a booth as they looked more comfortable and were also more spacious.

We sat in the bar area to have our cocktails and immediately the strains of the day faded away. The lighting at St Germain is perfect, not so gloomy that you struggle to see what you are eating, but soft enough to relax mind and body. The well designed furnishings add to the atmosphere, being stylish yet comfortable (often hard to get right) with high stools available as well as the cosy benches. I sampled the Veggie's long raspberry cocktail which was heavenly, and again great value at only 3.00p.

When we had finished our drinks I asked the barman if we could take our table a bit early, which he said was no problem. At this point the restaurant was almost empty, so whilst it may have been silly for him to say no to my request, it was just another example of the good service displayed throughout St Germain. A waitress took us to our booth and we ordered more cocktails. I went for a Dark and Stormy, which was mostly rum, ginger beer and lime, tasty but heavy on the booze. The Veggie had what was possibly the star cocktail of the evening, the Apple Mojito. This divine concotion was a blend of apple juice, mint, crushed ice and sugar. Boy, was it good and so refreshing. It was the kind of drink you could have a go at making yourself, which just added to the appeal.

We munched our way through warm bread and soft butter, whilst perusing the smallish menu. Although this was another Top Table booking we decided we would go for the al la carte rather than the very limited '2 courses for 15.00p offer'. I also feel I should mention that this offer is on the permanent menu and is not a especially created for Top Table customers...

Looking over the menu one could see a number of vegetarian choices such as a risotto, a pasta, goat's cheese croquettes, a soup and a tasty sounding salad. It was a nice surprise for the Veggie as so many restaurants still only have 1 or 2 choices for the non-meat or fish eater. After some deliberating I decided to have the Crab roulade to start and then the Gorganzola tortelli for my main. The Veggie, a little overwhelmed by the selection of dishes, went for the pea and mint soup (her favourite) to start, with the intriguing Cauliflower cheesecake to follow.

After a short wait with the restaurant beginning to fill around us, we were presented with our starters. The Veggie's soup was a triumph, 'so fresh it tastes like they have only just shelled and pureed the peas.' High praise indeed. My starter was very pretty to look at; the round of white crab meat sat on a circle of cucumber and red pepper in a sea of what appeared to be pea puree. This was then topped with avocado mousse and a crosshatched potato crisp. The avocado mousse was just delicious as was the fresh-tasting crab.

Sadly my main course was not a patch on my starter. Firstly, it consisted of a rather mean portion of pasta with only 3 tortelli, surrounded by a pumpkin veloute and salad leaves. Although the tortelli were quite large they were hardly enough for a starter let alone a main. To make matters worse the pasta was extremely al dente around the edges, which rather put me off the dish. Luckily the Veggie had ordered a side of rocket and parmesan with which I supplemented my meal. However, I still felt my main was poor value and it was a shame as it let down the rest of a perfectly good meal.

In contrast the Cauliflower cheesecake was a hit. It was smooth and delicious, once you got over the weird factor. It was also well presented with a dressed salad surrounding it and a tiny floret of cauliflower on top of the circle of cake. I was jealous.

To finish we decided to share a dessert. I was tempted by the creme brulee, just to see how it compared to Village East's woeful effort, but in the end we opted for the impressive sounding Chocolate marquis. This turned out to be a mouthwateringly rich mousse like cake with a hint of coffee, served with a dollop of clotted cream, chocolate sauce and a chocolate crisp topping it off. The dessert was so good that it managed to make me forgive my disappointing main.

The total bill came to 62 pounds which we both felt was good value. Our cocktails alone were around 19 pounds, so it was easy to see where we could have saved if we had been stricter with ourselves.

I would definitely go back, but I would be more selective with my choice of main dish. From what I could see emerging from the kitchen the meat and fish dishes were more generous and looked well-cooked. Also don't go expecting a traditional french menu, this one is lighter and quite innovative.

It is also worth mentioning that St Germain offers 50% off food on a Monday. It's a perfect place for a business lunch as well as a romantic evening.

Writing on the wall: 7 out of 10

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