Early in the new year I received an e-mail advertising the "Annual January sale" from Living Ventures offering 50% off food across their family of restaurants. I always feel cheap getting in on offers like this but as Artisan was on my never ending list of places to try so it seemed a good opportunity to see what the fuss was about and tick it off the list.
The restaurant itself is on the second floor of the building and they have someone (an exceptionally bored looking young lady in this instance) to sit just inside the door behind a Mac, seemingly employed just to tell people to go upstairs to the restaurant. She certainly didn't make any attempt to greet me in any other way at all and a piece of A4 paper with an arrow drawn on would've had more personality.
I always have a soft spot for a restaurant playing good background music and the first blast we heard on the stairs was the Wave Pictures which put me back in a positive mood quite quickly after the ignorance downstairs. Artisan is a massive place once you get up there, i'd estimate easily a couple of hundred seats and the waitress quickly spotted I was impressed by the space and gave me a mini-guided tour which was a nice touch. The decor was a major turn off - too much of a neat and over thought out attempt at 'shabby chic' but no authenticity or real personality, everything played very safe.
If it's always this busy for Saturday lunch then they clearly have a very successful place on their hands, either that or the 'January sale' was clearly working well for them as the place was already pretty busy at 1pm and rapidly filling up.
I went with a starter course, described as a 'deli counter' which consisted of what was described by the waitress as a nob of bread (titter) along with our choice of Bresaola ham, Somerset Brie and Potted mackerel and horseradish. My enthusiasm rapidly began to disappear as the food arrived - the nob of bread apparently roughly translates as a small stale chunk. This goes on record as the first time i've ever left bread uneaten in a restaurant. The slice of cheese was pretty paltry, Bresaola was fine, but the mackerel had been blitzed to oblivion giving it an almost liquid consistency with no kick of horseradish whatsoever.
By this point I was being driven to distraction by the light at the side of the table which continued to partially blind me throughout dinner.
The first main of salami, garlic, 'broken tomato', rosemary and feta pizza was fine but a bit anemic. The garlic was very strong which may not work for everyone but gave the pizza a flavour I really enjoyed, unfortunately the rest of the toppings were pretty watery meaning the base of the pizza was soggy, especially in the middle - an absolutely no-no for pizza in my eyes. This resulted in it being impossible to pick up a slice properly and no-one wants to eat pizza with a knife and fork.
My St Louis ribs looked completely lost on the plate when served, it smelt great but it was just so flavourless. I regret not asking what the pot of sauce was that came with it as it just tasted like watered down beef gravy, with no discernible flavour and certainly not enough to it to add anything to the meat itself. There was a crisp skin but it was so thin it was almost like snapping a wafer, not the crackle you'd expect on top of a piece of meat like this. The kimchi was suitably stinky and with a really strong flavour, I thoroughly enjoyed it and haven't seen it served many places up here so far so that was a pleasant surprise on two fronts.
Dessert of salted caramel banana was exceedingly good - the baked banana was so soft and perfectly complemented the sauce it had been soaked in, reminding me of preparing similar treats on camp fires as a kid (although it was chunks of dairy milk in the heady days before salted caramel was a ubiquitous fixture on menus). It came served with tasty gingerbread ice cream inside a wafer which would've taken industrial tools to try and break into pieces.
So to summarise - the food basically perfectly reflected the decor. Everything just very safe and bland, the very definition of average for me and in the end the mix of MOR radio friendly 'hits', the tacky decor, being surrounded by shit art and the light at the side of our table that was brighter than the sun made the entire experience fairly negative.
The total for the meal came to £52 and included 3 cocktails, the food mentioned above, a surprisingly great and very strong coffee as well as tip. The food was just so-so but in their defence the coffee and cocktails were impressive and certainly not light on the booze so not a complete waste of a lunch but absolutely no reason for me to go back - especially as without the offer we'd be looking at an £80 dinner which would be infinitely better spent somewhere like Mr Cooper's House.