Lark Lane has rarely seemed to get it quite right; maybe that’s part of the appeal, it’s pleasingly slipshod, a bit battered around the edges, faded elegance – all that jazz.
But for a supposed bohemian (although you can hardly get more boho than Keiths’ disgraceful toilets, or intriguing interior water walls) hang-out a lot of its eateries range seem curiously middle of the road. Marantos, for example, may be the least interesting pub/restaurant in all of existence. Pablo’s, well, it’s genuinely hard to think of anything to say about it.
Recent years have brought more interesting hang-outs and you’re spoiled for choice in terms of cuisine. Greendays, during the day, and the Moon and Pea have both added some quirk to the Lane but a simple, affordable bistro seems like such a no-brainer.
Lucky, then, that Bistro Noir has come along to fill the gap – and judging by the few occasions we’ve passed at night it’s going down a storm.
This little corner of the Lane used to be an overpriced 7–11 store but has been empty for some time. Upon entering Bistro Noir it’s clear that, while the owners have hardly strayed far from the Cafe Rouge template, it’s been a change for the best. It’s hushed, calm, cosy, welcoming. Good start.
During the week there are deals for two and three courses: £9.99 Monday to Wednesday; £12.99 on Thursday and Friday. It looks like a generous offer and there’s plenty of choice on the menu.
That menu is French-ish. It’s more accurate to describe the dishes on offer as Mediterranean. Starters include the likes of chilli prawns, hummus, falafel, lamb meatballs. Very Moorish.
The mains constitute the usual steaks and chicken, though a number of Caribbean-flavored specials look more interesting. For now, though, we settle for the cheap two-course deal; sometime a false economy in a restaurant, but suitable for a scoff-and-scoot we’ve got planned; Benny Profane are playing later on and we wouldn’t want a goat curry to get in the way.
Some lamb meatballs duly arrive in a ‘piquant’ tomato sauce. If there were such a thing as carpetballs, then they would have cropped up in this review in a rough-and-ready simile. Dry, dense, tasteless and actually burned on the bottom – covered in a tomato sauce best described as slightly hot, a faint whiff of Tabasco and that’s about it. It’s a very poor dish that goes back half-eaten.
Our dining partner has falafel, which seem go down rather better, but the main course of halloumi burger immediately goes back as it’s burned beyond any possible salvage.
We’ve gone for a fish platter of prawns, calamari and white fish goujons – £2 extra over the £12.99 deal. The latter are actually very tasty but are wrapped in a slightly leathery, soft, oily batter. As are the prawns, which are barely shelled. The squid is not well cooked, the lack of colour on the batter suggesting the oil it was cooked in was too cool. There are seven chips. Worst of all is an inedible home-made tartare; thin and vinegary it was genuinely inedible.
Second time around the halloumi is well cooked but, barring a taste sensation, the die is cast. Bistro Noir has had an absolute shocker tonight.
This is a shame, as Lark Lane could do with another nice, reliable eaterie that doesn’t get packed with drinkers in the early evening. So much of what the proprietors have done looks good – Bistro Noir looks like the ideal place for coffee, papers and lazing on a Sunday – but the food was simply not acceptable on our visit.
There were desserts, which had ‘bought-in’ stamped all over them. They may have been delightful, but sometime you need to call it quits. There’s a very good chance we’ll return; anyone can have an off night.
We’re prepared to put this down to the curse of the two-course deal this time around. For now, though, the Moon and Pea is far and away the default choice for unfussy, appetising food.
14 – 16 Lark Lane