Friday, 30 May 2014
Cornish Tiger, Battersea
When I first moved to Battersea, I think it was an unpromising-looking Italian called something like Ciao Bella. Shortly thereafter it turned into a burger bar called Tootsies, a very much pre- burger-revolution operation which owed much more of a debt to GBK than Meatwagon. When that folded, we had another stab at Italian with Say Pasta, whose lofty ambitions appeared to be to do what Strada were doing three doors down, only not as well and for more money. That didn't work, of course, so then it became Cucarachas, a Mexican Grill and Cocktail Bar which would have been terrifying enough even if it hadn't been named after insect vermin.
Every neighbourhood has one - that one high-street site that appears to have everything going for it (a great location, massive passing trade, a moneyed local population) and yet changes hands more than a sub-prime mortgage. If I was a superstitious man I'd entertain the idea that 1 Battersea Rise was cursed, but I strongly suspect the reality is rather more mundane - would you choose spend your money on crappy pasta or frozen fajitas over all the other amazing restaurants in London at the moment? No? Well, neither did anyone in Battersea.
Anyway, now we have Cornish Tiger, which on the face of it at least seems to be trying a little harder than its predecessors. The idea, at least I think this what they were going for, is for it to be a little embassy for Cornwall in London, serving Cornish ingredients wherever possible in recognisable ways. There's Cornish beef steaks for example, Cornish octopus "capriccio" [sic] (carpaccio presumably unless they really do mean they've trained their seafood to sing Strauss) and corn-fed Cornish chicken.
Unfortunately, between these pretentions and the practicalities of coming up with a menu people might conceivably want to eat, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Let's start with the "mackerel tartar", which I can only guess had mackerel in due to the overwhelming flavour being about half a pound of cracked black pepper. But giving them the benefit of the doubt for the second and assuming it did contain at least some mackerel, a) why would you completely drown this delicate and flavoursome fish in a ("Tiger") spice mix so clumsy it should have been called "explosion in ASDA aisle 14", and b) what on earth was a soggy pile of orange and fennel supposed to add?
A "summer salad" was a bit like something you'd get from the cabinets at M&S but at least it didn't taste of a spice cupboard - the "Tiger marinated feta cheese" was seemingly just feta cheese, and the ingredients were fresh. Hardly an inspiring way of spending £7 but there it is anyway.
Veal Scotch egg looks the part (blame my new camera which has the annoying habit of making the most diabolical food look edible) but there was something deeply distressing about how thin, watery and unseasoned the meat was, like Weightwatchers turkey mince. Worse was the "Tiger pickle", presumably some half-assed stab at a piccalilli, which tasted of nothing more than sweet stewed vegetables, like a cold ratatouille. Also, this single Scotch egg cost £10.
So it continued. Sea bass was impressive insofar as the "Tiger spiced crust" could have been wood chip for all the extra flavour it added, although the fish itself wasn't overcooked. Also why place cooked fish on hot boiled potatoes and cold tomatoes?
Lamb was, we were told, "slow-cooked for 72 hours". This could very well be the case. Cornish Tiger could have somehow found a way of cooking lamb rump, in an oven (no sous-vide we were assured), for 3 days, to pink and rubbery. They could have done that. If so, surely they've succeeded where so many others have failed. Or maybe they put the lamb in the oven for 72 hours but only turned it on for the last 15. That's also a possibility. But I think more likely someone was telling porkies and this was just flash seared in a pan. It came with another bonkers mixture of inadvisably spiced vegetables (pea masala, chilli peanut, sour preserved lemon) and cost a whacking £17.
And oh God, the burger. I'll do this quickly and then draw a veil over it because dwelling on it might give me nightmares. Most importantly, the vast sphere of meat was, despite the trolley full of random ("Tiger" again) spices they'd thrown into the mix, bland and pappy, like cheap meatballs from a school canteen. It came with more cold ratatouille, some horrid house pickles which were less pickled than "left to go soggy", and a slice of butter lettuce. The brioche bun was fine in terms of flavour but had dissolved into mush before it got to me partly because it wasn't very sturdy in the first place but mainly because this is a plate of food that had clearly been sitting around for a long time - the slate (!! kill me now) it came on was so hot you couldn't touch it. Oh there were potato wedges too, doused in paprika. Well of course there were.
If we'd arrived curious about this new neighbourhood arrival, then we'd left with more unanswered questions than an Oscar Pistorious trial. Firstly, what on earth was "Tiger" spicing? In the course of our hardly exhaustive selection of dishes it had cropped up 5 or 6 times meaning completely different things. "Tiger" spicing on the mackerel meant a suitcase-full of black pepper. With the Scotch egg it was shorthand for "we don't know how to", as demonstrated in the "we don't know how to" pickle. And what was the Tiger crust on the sea bass - fennel seeds? Cumin? Asbestos? Impossible to say. Maybe "Tiger spicing" is an abstract concept, like if you let a real tiger loose in your kitchen and then scraped up what was on the floor after it had thrashed itself around to death. That would make some sense.
Cornish Tiger is, even compared to the hardly stellar lineup of options on Battersea Rise (the awful Breakfast Club is next door, and the annoying Entree over the road), a terrible way to spend your money and your time. But whereas elsewhere you'd mourn the loss of this prime location to an overpriced and overthought load of nonsense, at least here there's comfort to be had in twiddling your thumbs and waiting for it to inevitably shut down and reopen as something entirely different. Who knows, in a few months it could be the next Soif, the only genuinely respectable joint within about a half mile, and just a few doors down. Time will tell, meanwhile just try and ignore it. It won't be there long.