The Lawyer Eats: Blandford Comptoir, Marylebone W1

Did you enjoy it? Asks the waitress, for what, by this point, is the third time. I’m not enjoying your service style, I don’t say, even though I’m getting steadily more irritated as the meal progresses.

EXTENDED RANT KLAXON: I hate (yes, hate)  being asked, mid-mouthful, whether I’m enjoying it. I don’t know anyone who likes being asked this question, which in its binary form makes it difficult to have a sensible discussion. It’s a closed question, leading nowhere. And it’s a really safe question to ask the English, most of whom would rather die than say no.

Is everything alright would be slightly better, but it’s marginal. Can I get you anything, better still. The gold standard is just to remain attentive and unobtrusive, waiting for the usual signs from the diner that they actually need you to come to the table.

Almost every time I look up there is a waitress near our table, either removing plates or glasses, or, pad to the ready, waiting to take the next order.

Insufficient time is given for us to study the menu or the wine list, before it starts. Conversations are interrupted at the wrong moment because it suits the waitress rather than the guest.

Asking me the same are you enjoying it question on at least five separate occasions and in a slightly inquisitorial manner is not going to endear you to me. Swiping away my dish as the fork hits the plate after the last mouthful is not designed to give me a relaxed dining experience.

Taking a glass out of C’s  hand whilst C is still holding the stem is such an bizarre incident that I have to double check with him that it really did happen. It did.  It borders on the comic. My wine glass is swiped From under my nose and it isn’t  entirely empty.

Telling your guests (guests!)  they have to leave because there is another group waiting is acceptable when you have informed your guests that there is a time limit for the table. It is not fine when no mention has been made of needing the table back at time of booking or even arrival. And in case you are wondering whether we had been lolling about, we had been there from 6:30pm until 8:15pm. And we were half an hour earlier than the time originally booked, so would they still have thrown us out at 8:15? I wonder.

And to add salt to the wound,  I find out that a friend went on a Saturday evening (our visit is a Tuesday night) stayed from 7pm  till 11pm, ordered copious amounts of decent wine and was not asked to leave. There appears to be a two-tier system, which, if true, hacks me off even further.

END OF RANT KLAXON

Out with Mrs and Mrs F, avid foodies and followers of the blog,  we’ve been corresponding about food for a few years now,  but have never before met IRL, as they say.

I suggest Blandford Comptoir, the brainchild of master sommelier Xavier Rousset, previously of Le Manoir 28-50 and Texture, so I’m expecting an emphasis on interesting wine. I really like both those restaurants and having heard huge praise for this, I have high hopes.

After a little confusion about the wines by the glass/carafe (a sheet of paper is stuck to the top of the folding wine list) we work out that there is a list underneath. It has been a long day of jury service and I can be excused for this thickery.

The list is really well laid out, grouped on the left into price bands, with a rare and interesting list on the right. After an attempt by the sommelier to rush our order,  Mrs F picks a lovely Meursault and we’re off. The wines appear to my untrained eye to be very good value. I could look at Winesearcher for you but sorry, I have a life.

The format is simple: Italian-ish food veering over to France a bit, grouped into a raw section and fish and meat dishes. It is meant to be sharing plates but C and kindred spirit Mr F don’t do sharing. Mrs F and I are happy to do diagonal plate swaps but this obviously messes with the minds of the waiting staff as they get the allocation of the dishes wrong throughout the meal. Of course all of this is #firstworldproblems but added to the super-speedy-service-scenario it’s another small irritation.

The risotto with truffles is creamy and unctuous and there is a high note cutting through the rich; it may be lemon. It’s good. Courgette flower deep-fried is not the best example I’ve had, the batter a little soggy. Scallops with broad beans and pea shoots is a delicious plateful of  minty bright green and the scallops sweet and super-fresh and there is a caramelised glaze which requires me to eat more than my allotted share. This is good, solid cooking.

C orders steak,  which he says is slightly bloodless though with really good flavour. It’s served with watercress,  so you may want a side dish,  all of which are priced at £4. Together,  not a massive bargain at £28 for 220g , before service.

My hake with artichoke barigoule is a small plate dressed up as a big one. It’s not a massive hunk of fish but it is of the highest quality, though the skin isn’t as crisped as I’d prefer. The artichokes are tasty, served on a bed of tiny diced carrot and onion, dotted with tomato and a few broad beans. A pretty Provençale plateful. It’s a light dish, perfect for a dieter. More substantial and far more interesting was the quail and boudin blanc, served in a deeply reduced gravy scattered with pine nuts. Far more satisfying than my hake plate, I’d recommend you give it a try.

Desserts are of the rather unadventurous chocolate mousse/lemon tart variety and I’d say not their strongest suit. The mousse, flecked with orange pieces and topped with  is a small portion, notably small and the lemon tart is fine but one can find much better examples and you don’t need to order this if you’re not sure. I’d have a look at the cheese if I were you and pair it with one of their wonderful wines.

Judgement: Blandford Comptoir is a classy, comfortable space with fabulous wines and food which is a great foil for it. It’s a good place for a blow-out, wine wise but I’d check before you book that you have the table for a reasonable time.

And in case you’re wondering, I did complain at the end of the meal, to the woman I assume was the maître d’, about both the service and the unannounced table-turn and I got a “sorry”. I doubt I’ll return.

Scores on the doors

Food 7/10
Ambience 7/10
Value for money 7/10
Service 1/10

Best for: speed-eaters
Worst for: masticators