2 Burleigh Street, WC2E
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WHAT AND WHERE? An American restaurant off The Strand thats geared towards the theatre crowd. It opened as the London outpost of a New York brasserie in 1977, but recently moved to a new Covent Garden home 30 seconds from its original premises on Exeter Street. Everything has been transplanted over, from the bar to the floorboards to the vintage theatre posters that fill every inch of available wall space. The website quotes Joanna Lumley, no less, who thinks its divine.
WHATS THE DEAL? The daily set menu runs from 12pm to 7pm, offering two courses for £15.95 or three for £18.95, not including drinks or gratuity. Upgrade to steak frites for an extra £2.50.
WHATS ON THE MENU? This is a crowd-pleasing menu, with three options for each course covering comfort food, veggies and foodies. Theres a small list of classic cocktails and a decent-sized wine list, albeit one thats slightly scant on American grapes. The 500ml carafes are the perfect size for lunchtime drinking.
WHATS THE BEST? The goats cheese and walnut salad is the clear winner among the starters, even if it was a tad overdressed. Its worth throwing a couple of quid at the no-frills steak frites for your main; the crispy chicken was generous but under-seasoned. Wed steer clear of the battered hake, which was greasy and overcooked.
ROOM FOR DESSERT? Save some space, for the best is kept for last. Crumbly, buttery short-crust pastry encases a zingy lemon tart, served with a scoop of fresh cream, while the panacotta and strawberries is just the ticket for a fine English summers afternoon, topped with chewy white chocolate buttons; fun if not particularly refined.
NEED TO BOOK? Probably not, but you can call 0207 836 0651 or visit joeallen.co.uk. Ask for a table near the front of house – its shuttered windows are thrown open on nice days making it feel like a patio terrace.
THE VERDICT Swift service and a no nonsense menu make Joe Allen a safe, if not exactly awe-inspiring, bet in the centre of theatreland. Dessert is definitely worth sticking around for.