Restaurant review: Cool Hand Luke
PUBLISHED: 10:40 01 February 2014 | UPDATED: 14:58 10 February 2014
Katie Jarvis explains how there’s a warm welcome at Luke’s Broadway, but the culinary efforts of a highly-rated young chef get a rather chilly reception
So here it is. My Top Five Things About Dining Out that I find eeeummmooh… not negative, exactly. I’m never negative. (Not counting then.) But odd.
1 The first is bread. I’m at home, cooking a meal with madly expensive ingredients, actually weighing stuff and not guessing even a bit. And here’s what I don’t do. I don’t think, ‘Hey! I’ll eat a loaf of bread before I sit down to this fab meal that’s taken so long and cost so much.’ Yet in restaurants, I throw tantrums if I’m not automatically given the pre-prandial equivalent of half a Hovis. This really is odd. On my part. The only person who’s ever explained this to me adequately is the dog.
2 The service charge/tip that’s now sort-of compulsory but not included in the stated price. What is this all about? I mean, it’s not like the awkward suitcases-and-hotels dilemma, is it? It’s not as if you can tell the waiter, ‘It’s OK. I’ll nip into the kitchen and help myself’.
3 Restaurants that force you into the lounge beforehand – even if you’ve booked – so you have to buy a drink. I’m either going to end up too full on soda water, or blind drunk. I speak from experience - a Cotswold pub experience, actually, during which (on the way back from powdering my nose), I took a tipsily wrong turn and dramatically entered the kitchens, in a scene similar to the one in which Mr Mason explains that Rochester is already married to a woman that someone inexplicably named Bertha.
4 That chefs eat so badly. They cook sublimely for everyone else before tucking into Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodles, followed by a plate of chips for pudding. I understand why, but I weep for them incessantly.
5 The Dining Alone Purdah. David Pearson, the film guru, (interviewed elsewhere in this excellent publication) pointed this one out to me. If you go into certain restaurants alone, other diners might catch something, so it’s important to place you at a far-flung table, probably by the loos, and largely aim for you but – at the last minute - swerve past you during the course of the evening.
Anyway. That aside, I love restaurants. LOVE them. So we decide to take Ellie – who’s super-stressed with university essays – out for a meal treat. “I’ve got three to write. And a dissertation,” she quails.
“Maybe I can help,” Ian suggests, whose major literary canon consists of reading A Year in Provence twice, but only finding it funny the first time.
“Metaphysicals,” Ellie says.
“Olivia Newton John,” Ian replies, with quiet certainty.
“Victorian novels,” she continues.
“Ah! I know this!” he says, thrilled. “What’s that one where he comes back, slightly singed?”
“Jane Eyre,” I say. Which has a happy ending, unlike our meal review. I choose Luke’s Broadway because I’ve heard great things about this young chef who, at 20, already has stellar reviews and has picked the World’s Hardest Profession. Aged 15, he won FutureChef, and he’s shown his considerable skills on Great British Menu, as well as impressing the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Gary Rhodes. Nor is Luke’s – part of the Lygon Arms – his only pad. He has one near Marlow, too.
So we stroll confidently into the Lygon Arms. And then out again, as – although they’re connected in a way that is slightly mystifying, but only because I haven’t asked fully – Luke’s is next door. It’s 6.45pm and freezing. So we walk around Broadway, making cold noises, and truck up again 10 minutes later. There’s a super-lovely chap called Daniel, front-of-house, but it’s freezing inside Luke’s, too. “Fire isn’t going so well,” Daniel opines. We refrain from pointing out that it’s nothing striking a match wouldn’t solve.
“It’s the last night before we close for a fortnight,” Daniel explains. This statement should merely be informative, but we begin to take it as an apology. No fire. No specials. Bread and butter pudding is off the menu.
The food is fine. Not amazing, if I’m honest. But mainly OK. Ellie doesn’t fancy any of the starters – chestnut soup (wild mushroom is also off); crab on toast; whitebait; or the pan-roasted scallops, mussel curry and fritters (chosen by Ian; nice but tiny); and my ham and piccalilli with apple and watercress salad (a bit cloying). So Ellie plumps for a slightly tough steak for mains, while Ian has venison and, I, the sea bass. Ian’s is the kind where you have to assume certain smudges are the salt-baked celeriac, sprout leaves, bacon and chestnuts. (Should have had a sides but, with a main course at £18.50… why??) And my fish with chorizo and chargrilled sweetcorn risotto is what you’d expect from a dish of that description.
The biggest sadness lies with the puddings, because the vanilla cheesecake is so lacking in flavour – and served by a member of the kitchen staff in full whites - you wonder whether they forgot the vanilla.
Listen. I know Luke is talented. I’ve read the reviews. But, at a minimum, take it from me: don’t go on a nondescript January night when they’re due to close for two weeks.
• Ambience 6
• Service 8
• Food 6
• Value for money 5
Luke’s Broadway, High Street, Broadway WR12 7DU, 01386 854418; lukesbroadway.com
This article by Katie Jarvis is from the February 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Katie, follow her on Twitter: @Katiejarvis