I’ve said for quite a while that my part of Clapham needed a really good steak place – especially after that lovely Argentinean steakhouse closed down (amazing, authentic Argentinean food; prices far above average). So when Roxie opened, I was rather pleased and hopeful.
However, it’s been a hit-and-miss experience so far. The couple of times I’ve managed to dine there I felt rather rushed and pressured because I arrived without a reservation (even mid-week) – and those were the times they let me in! I have tried to dine there as a walk-in on several other occasions and was told there was no room for me there unless I sat at the uncomfortable bar, even as I saw multiple empty tables. It actually got so bad that I was genuinely concerned at one point that I was being turned away for being female (somehow this place is always filled with something like 90-95% men which is a severely skewed ratio, so much so that I wondered if it was on purpose).
So, this time, my friend and I decided to try it out on a Saturday night for dinner and make a booking in advance (more than 2 days beforehand). Fortunately we found availability for an early table, but I already felt rushed to finish my meal before even getting there: you are advised at the time of booking that you must leave your table in 90 minutes! Sure, I know table turnover is important for restaurants, but all those that set limits usually allow you 2 hours.
When Saturday night came along and we arrived, we were offered two tables by the regularly opening door before we were given one which was more sheltered – which was a little disappointing because I had put in the reservation notes that we preferred a table away from the entrance.
Upon taking our seats we noticed that the restaurant was unusually populated by slightly more women than men- and then it dawned on us that there was a sports event taking place this evening, and it all made sense. Though a slightly different gender balance, the place was predominantly filled with the usual thirty-something middle class demographic that is so typical of the area.
We also observed at the time of ordering and even after the particularly relaxed attitude of the staff. (This is with exception to the woman manager who – hardly an amiable softie and tough cookie she may have been when she’s refused me a table – is capable and on top of things). These young and possibly inexperienced guys who were the waiters for the evening would appear at the table to take your order unprepared without a pen, or would be seen slouching and leaning on the bar looking rather bored and uninspired. It just comes across as unprofessional.
The restaurant is quite dark by default, so much so that it’s very easy to walk by and not even realise that they’re open for lunch sometimes, but it’s even darker in the evenings. I’m not entirely sure what it’s trying to accomplish: it’s not exactly a romantic restaurant (more of a gastro-diner/steakhouse), yet somehow most of the lighting you’ll get is the candle on your table. It would be great if it were a little brighter so that you could actually see your food.
A bit of a disappointing start to the evening, clearly… but then our order comes out. The fillet, served on a board seasoned with sea salt and the creamed spinach on the side, looks rather appetising. I ordered it without any sauce because, as I always say, when meat is prepared properly it doesn’t need any sauce. Well, I’m pleased to say that this meat does not need any sauce. It was cooked to perfection (medium rare, upon my request) and was so rich in flavour that it needed no other condiment. Thankfully the restaurant provides customers with proper steak knives and so cutting through this beautiful fillet was easy and smooth. It was delicious from first bite to last. I also really enjoyed the creamed spinach as well: a great balance between spinach and cream, it felt like a bit of a treat more than a portion of greens.
Encouraged by the success of the main course, we felt bold enough to try a dessert, and ordered the warm chocolate fondant. This, however, was a bit of a disappointment.
You see, it’s not that it didn’t taste good: it’s pretty hard to get warm, gooey chocolate to taste badly. But
- it was obvious it wasn’t freshly made (confirmed later by the manager: they are apparently made in a central location and then shipped out to their restaurants, of which this Clapham branch is included);
- the accompanying vanilla ice cream is of the very commercial kind, which was a bit of a let-down with the bland taste and the lack of vanilla bean seeds you get with really good vanilla ice cream;
- upon serving the plate, the customer experiences a degree of cognitive dissonance with the blue and white grandma-style China being served in a diner/steakhouse ambiance. It feels weird; it just doesn’t fit/match with the experience
With fifteen minutes to spare before our time-slot expired, we asked for the bill, and I for one was rather pleasantly surprised to see it arrive with one of my favourite brands of chocolate with crunchy mint pieces. It might seem silly, but it’s a great way to leave a customer smiling as they walk out the door, and I always appreciate this gesture – especially when the chocolate or mint is of a respectable quality.
All in all, it’s a bit of a frustrating conundrum. Clapham Junction needs a good meat option, and Roxie comes through (they have burgers, ribs and other appetising options available for the hungry carnivore). But thank goodness the meat is good, because in every other way, Roxie leaves a lot to be desired. And so, I will probably end up returning, but it will sadly be very reluctantly and for lack of competitive options.
*Calories for 250g of fillet estimated at about 460; the creamed spinach at 160.
Food taste: 4 / 5 (bolstered by the quality of their steak)
Food/table presentation: 2 / 5 (that dessert presentation was simply wrong)
Service: 2 / 5
Atmosphere/decor: 2.5 / 5
Value for money: 3 / 5 (Fillet 250g was 17.50; the pre-fabricated fondant was 4.00; feels a little more than what it should be for the area)
Overall rating: 2.7/ 5