Anyway, we arrived in London, met a friend, checked into the hotel and set out into the night. We left it up to the resident Londoner among us to decide where to drink and eat. He took us to a small bar - no idea where we were apart from walking distance from Tottenham Court Road, but the beer and wine was good. He then presented us with a couple of choices of restaurant. One of which was Joe Allen.
We had never been there before, or actually heard of the place, but he did recommend it. He promised a piano and a burger. Which we weren't too sure about, seemed an odd combination.
We arrived at the restaurant, and it is quite safe to say that we wouldn't have found it ourselves, but maybe that is because it seems very easy to lose you sense of direction in London - or is that just me? We entered, explained to the receptionist that we didn't have a reservation, which didn't seem to be a problem, as we could have a table until 10:00, deposited our coats and were shown to a table.
The atmosphere was great, low light, interesting posters/pictures, very busy and buzzing, but no piano! Nevermind.
We looked at the menu, and there was no burger. Was this the same place we'd been promised? But then we were told that the burger is not on the menu, and that those in the know order it. This became known to us as "The Secret Burger". Burgers for me are not generally an option, mainly because of the inevitable bun, but unless made with plain meat (I've no doubt that this secret burger is top quality) generally have breadcrumbs or other such like to help bind. An even if this burger had the absence of bread, I suspect the full experience of the secret burger would not be mine minus the bun.
One of our party did order the Secret Burger, together with what seems to be standard, bacon and cheese and fries on the side.
Our starters were the Mozzarella with Stewed Aubergine and Pesto, and the Artichoke and Rocket Salad with Balsamic dressing. Another starter on our table was the Smoked Salmon with Capers.
Other than the Secret Burger, the main course was the Usda Beef Rump with Wilted Beetroot Leaves and Garlic Wild Mushrooms.
The Mozzarella was nice, and the pesto very tasty, but by the opinion of our TV producer friend, the cheese was nothing like the mozzarella available in Italy. The stewed aubergine was the highlight for me though. Soft and tomatoey, but very different to the Caponata we had made at home. I was expecting it to be similar, but I suppose if it was supposed to be Caponata, it would have said that on the menu. The artichoke salad, I am told was also nice. An excellent combination of flavours.
The beef was very good in my opinion, the beetroot leaves, and beetroot itself, very good. And the mushrooms excellent. Just a hint of garlic, without blowing you away making everything else taste garlicky and the right amount of seasoning. Tim thought that a side of carbohydrate would have gone nicely to fill out the meal, but I the main itself was adequate for me. Perhaps this was a bit of jealousy over the fries that came with the burger? ;-)
The burger I believe was excellent, and for our friend, it truly lived up to it's legendary status. He described it to me as THE burger, juicy - but not too much, not greasy in any respect, beefy and satisfying. The perfect burger. One thing perhaps that didn't meet his taste was the amount of raw onion which came as the accompaniment as he did dish out pieces to everyone around the table, giving us all onion breath!
I didn't feel particularly rushed, even though the food came out very quickly - I believe the restaurant does a lot of business in pre-theatre meals, but if we hadn't had a time limit on the table, perhaps we would have lingered longer. The waitress was very helpful with pointing out the gluten free options - which there seemed to be many, after consulting with the chef. We think the steak was around the £22 mark, and we're not too sure of the drink prices. Not much help I know, sorry! I would recommend Joe Allen, and would go there again. Although unfortunately I will never be able to fully experience their famous secret.