Large groups of lunchtime diners can be a double-edged sword for many restaurants and gastropubs. While custom is welcome – particularly in such a tough economic climate – guests often want to order and pay separately, creating a nightmare for the poor soul waiting on their table. They also tend to expect their food out sharpish so that it fits comfortably into their lunch hour.
Our group of 10 that descended on the Old Star, opposite St James’s Park Station, was no exception. Yet our varying demands were met with a charming smile from the bartender, who patiently collected our individual orders and distributed the correct change – despite minds being changed and additional requests coming in at the last minute.
Soon we were all in the ‘caves’, waiting for our food to arrive. Located in the basement of the 300-year-old pub, these were once used as the Crown Vaults and offer guests a variety of corners and coves.
Consistent with the great service we’d received so far, it didn’t take long for our meals to arrive. Unfortunately, the food itself didn’t live up to the same standards. The menu had promised ‘Hearty pub food’, and pub food it was. As for hearty – well, that depended on what you ordered. While the portion sizes were adequate, the quality was mixed. One colleague ordered a club sandwich with salad and chips – the sandwich, with its moist chicken and slightly fatty bacon, was deemed “good”, but there was disappointment over the cold chips and “pointless” salad. I also had cold chips, as well as a less than impressive steak ciabatta. The meat was chewy and overcooked, and there was barely a mention of the promised horseradish mayonnaise. However, others did not fare so badly. There were murmurs of appreciation from one colleague who tucked into the veggieburger – made of genuine vegetables, rather than soya – while another’s cheese and bacon burger was found to taste home-made, with a distinct herb and black pepper flavour.
Those too hungry for a sarnie could have chosen from starters such as handmade duck spring rolls, South Indian samosas, and – bizarrely – haggis and macaroni bites with a whisky sauce. Mains included honey-roasted ham and free-range eggs, beef lasagne, and fish and chips, plus seasonal specials.
As pub meals go, it was okay. The Old Star offers a decent selection of reasonably-priced, average food. The highlight, however, was the service – and for a group of time-pressed individuals, this is perhaps one of the most important qualities a lunchtime venue can offer. So for that reason and that reason alone, I’m prepared to give it a second chance.