13 Norfolk Pl, Paddington, W2 1QJ
A perfectly decent neighbourhood restaurant, despite the fact that the only people who live in this neighbourhood are call girls.
-(often capitalised) A desolate, barren stretch of land, usually within a city; a wasteland: “The area of London directly north of Hyde Park is Paddington.”
-A Peruvian refugee and bear.
A quick search of “Paddington Restaurants” brings up such moribund establishments as Garfunkle’s, Zizzi, and sub-Wetherspoons pubs like The Fountains Abbey. If you need to dine out in Paddington, you have almost no worthwhile options – almost. Because amid the harrowingly poor chain restaurants and piss soaked pubs is The Frontline Club.
The website does it no favours:
“…decorated with some of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century … head chef John Edwards (previously Soho House & Le Caprice)…garner most of our food from our farm in Ellingham farm…”
Ignore all of this. I know it’s all very pretentious and annoying, but just concentrate on the fact that this is, by some distance, the best place to eat out in Paddington.
The “iconic photographs” that hang inside are secondary in importance to the large windows that hog two of the four walls; these are the real reason why The Frontline Club is a pleasurable space in which to eat, it is a commodious room bathed in natural light. There is, however, a slight panic in the air that comes from people desperate to impress. Like a painfully middle class couple hosting a dinner party, it makes you wish that everybody would relax, just a little. Everything is fine: I’m fine, we’re fine, and you, it turns out, are just fine.
Let’s talk food. The starters go from £6 to £10, and the mains range between £12 and £25. They also do a very well-priced set menu: two courses for £18, three for £20. The dishes are the type of plates that a solid MasterChef contestant would concoct, perhaps bringing it out in the later rounds, maybe the quarters, but not before they’ve gone off to Italy or Denmark to work with lovably eccentric chefs who show them their true selves and confide in them the very real need to form a coke habit if they are serious about being professional chefs. It’s all very modern British: heritage beetroot salad, whipped goats cheese & rocket, or fillet of cod, smoked bacon & butterbean, or Roast rump of lamb, sorrel pearl barley & pickled fennel. It’s not particularly imaginative, but it tends to work – a sentiment that you will see becoming somewhat the leitmotif of this review.
We ordered a selection of starters, of which the Ham hock terrine, green tomato chutney & sourdough was the most disappointing. It was served with all the imagination of a boxing-day snack; and the chutney was not green tomato, but onion. The terrine itself tasted of carved ham and nothing else, and it came with a pile of undressed salad, fresh from the bag. In fact, the dish may have more suitably been called “Ham Sandwich Ingredients”. Seared scallops, pea puree & crispy bacon was wildly, almost inspiringly unimaginative, but tasty nonetheless. Scallop, pea, bacon: these things go together, this much we know. The Heritage Beetroot salad, whipped goats cheese & rocket was the sort of casually delicious salad that is now ubiquitous across London, a delight we should not take for granted. For so long Caesar, Greek, and Garden were the only salads to choose from. The move towards more than just some cos lettuce and cucumber in a bowl constituting a salad is one of the better things to come out of the Noughties.
I ordered Grilled sea bream with samphire, artichokes and Amalfi lemons as my main. The sea bream was, as they say, on point. Perfectly, perfectly cooked. However, the accompaniments were a slight afterthought; an annoyance because if they would have been cooked with the same care as the fish then this would have been a truly delicious thing. Again, the flavours all worked – fish, samphire, lemon – it is no revelation that these things go together, but it was all just a little lacking.
My dessert was Affogato, and whilst you cannot really balls Afffogato up, the praise comes in having it on the menu in the first place. It should be on every menu. It’s ice cream and coffee, what more do you people want? My companion ordered Elderflower panna cotta with poached gooseberries; these are two ingredients that need a deft touch. Elderflower can end up making a meal taste of perfume, and gooseberries need the right amount of sugar and time thrown at them to stop them being too tart. The elderflower they got right, and the panna cotta was well made, but the gooseberries were undercooked and very sharp. Again, it was okay.
In fact, everything we ate was okay. It all needed a little more care, a little more seasoning, and a little more adventure, but overall it was satisfactory. Perfectly sufficient. Amazingly functional. Do you think any of these are going on the poster?
The lesson here, I suppose, is don’t eat out in Paddington. However, If you do ever find yourself having to travel through this wasteland (perhaps to catch a train somewhere, perhaps to pick up some brass – nobody’s here to judge) and need to eat out, then get yourself down to The Frontline Club. It will neither amaze nor disappoint. It will be fine, just fine.
VERDICT: An oasis in a gastronomic desert.
BETTER OPTIONS: Around London, certainly. Around Paddington, absolutely not.