Last summer I was lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the REP before it was completed and found the whole thing jaw dropping.
One area that was really coming together was the restaurant. Emerging from the dust and rubble was the Centenary Bar & Brasserie. With Searcys on board and a Michelin-starred chef, the idea was to make it more than pre-theatre dining but a destination restaurant in its own right. Seven months later I’m back back to sample it, excited to see if Searcys and head chef Paul Wellburn have pulled it off.
LESS IS MORE
We arrived at 7.30pm just after the pre-show rush to a calm room and attentive staff. The décor is slick and modern with lots of wood and simple lines. At the risk of sounding ancient, the lighting was a bit bright for my liking. The open kitchen added a bit of theatre (sorry!) which was nice. The confident menu was great with just enough choice rather than pointless reams of mediocre options. Simplicity seemed key here. To start I opted for roast butternut squash, spinach and parmesan gnocchi with a walnut crumb. The description doesn’t do it justice. It arrived looking beautiful – vibrant yellow with a few herbs and edible flowers dotted around the plate and sweet pieces of walnut nestled between the gnocchi. The taste lived up to its picture perfect appearance. My usually carnivorous friend, Murray, couldn’t get enough either. As a starter it was great, but I reckon it would make a perfect light lunch too. Just add a girlfriend or two and a chilled glass of Gavi. Murray chose the Thai fishcakes, spaghetti veg and sweet chilli. This was also really good. There was just the right amount of chilli in the sauce for both of us; the fishcakes were hearty and tasty with a big hit of coriander. So far, so good.
Murray was eyeing up the pork belly from the moment we sat down, so that choice was inevitable. Served with carrot puree, chorizo and pomme puree, the pork was really juicy with crunchy salty crackling. I thought it sounded a bit puree overload, but actually it was lovely. I opted for good old fish and chips. It was cutely served on a wooden board which I’m not usually a fan of, but it seemed to make sense here. The fish was wrapped in the Searceys Times newspaper which was a nice touch. The chips were fantastic and the fish, which I think was whiting, was delicious although it was a whopper of a portion – a bit too much for me. The tartar sauce was great, but my northern roots meant I was hankering after a generous dollop of mushy peas. The lovely waitress was so enthusiastic about the chocolate tart with pistachio ice cream – how could I not? It was as pretty as a picture, but it wasn’t a tart. It was deconstructed which is clearly a bit trendy, so it consisted of quenelles of rich chocolate mousse with crisp biscuits and a really good pistachio ice cream. It was gorgeous. In fact it’s the first dish I’d ever been tempted to photograph and tweet about which I’ve always thought a bit sad. Then there was the lemon chiboust with champagne sorbet. I’d never had a chiboust, in fact I’d never heard of one so we had to try it. It was like an unctuous lemon meringue pie without the pastry – light, citrus-y, sweet and smooth.
Contemplating the conversations I’d had before the restaurant opened, I’d say Searcys has achieved what it set out to. The Centenary definitely feels like a restaurant not just a pre-theatre eatery. The food is unfussy and delicious, atmosphere relaxed, location brilliant and staff superb. I think once spring has sprung, the Centenary will come into its own with the doors along the façade opened up and tables outside – that is assuming the biblical rain ever stops of course.