Morgan Arms (London): Gastropub not so gastro



(Visited 20/01/2012)


After the amazing Viajante, let’s check if there is another little gem, in a different category, tucked away in the East End of London. We head to (near) Tredegar Square, the heart of the conservation area north of Mile End.


We are glad we haven’t booked in the pub section as it is (for us) unbearably noisy. The restaurant section is quieter, cosy, simply but pleasantly furnished. But when people start coming in we note with angst that we dramatically increase the average age in the room.





The only problems with a mackerel pate’ are that it doesn’t taste of mackerel (faint undistinguished fish flavour), and that it is not a pate’ (too soft). Ah, and the lemon overwhelms everything else.





The only problem with a cod and leek fishcake is that it tastes neither of cod nor of leek. Given that cod has a strong flavour, this is a remarkable feat, achieved we assume by being mean with the fish. Apart from total blandness, however, not bad and reasonably moist.





A grilled rib-eye of Scottish beef is better, though it reminds us that one thing is for a steak to be good and tender, another to be deep flavoured (like the one recently had at at Drovers Inn). This one was good but lacked depth. It had also been raped (flavour-wise) by a mega-portion of a heavy cheesy sauce thrown, unrequested, upon it (and removed by us).





And finally, a dish of seabass with chorizo was intensely greasy, the fish clearly farmed and not wild, but cooked well and fresh.





We decide to skip desserts because we are unable to anticipate anything positive.


The service was the best aspect of the evening, with really sweet guys in charge, professional and polite, in a venue which is part of a large group of unbranded pubs, and which clearly aims at achieving mediocre but just good enough standards to be identified as a gastropub instead than an ordinary pub. But for us, gastro it ain’t. Again, the recent comparison with Drovers Inn in Angus puts this experience, while not unpleasant, in a poor light. We spent around £80 for two courses with a £20 bottle of quite drinkable Barbera and tap water and a tip, and we think this is the last money they will see from us. But in our student days we might have thought otherwise; we might have thought that this place had something going for it, and our mostly young fellow diners seem to think so, too. Maybe we are missing something just by virtue of our being boring old farts. So if you are young, go and check. All the others, we suggest you go elsewhere.





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L’oasis


The day: November 29th 2009, Dinner.
The place: Mile End Road,
237 Mile End Road Stepney LONDON E1 4AA (Tel : 020 7702 7051).
The venue: L’ Oasis
The food: Gastropub
The drinks: good selection of well-priced wines and beers.

Gastropub, what a passion! Ever in search of the UK analogue of the good Italian trattoria, this time we focus on another East End place (after this and this and, in a sense, this), which has the dubious distinction of a raving review by the distinguished gastrocritic Fay Maschler.

As expected, the interior of the (long, spacious) room with the pub area at the end is casual, rustic, lively

And some interesting entertainers on the mezzanine:

There is also an upstairs room.

On the menu, starters go for £4.50-6.50 (e.g. whitebait at 4.50), with a mediterranean ‘meze’ tray to share at £12.50. Mains offer, for example, hearty choices such as Smoked haddock, spinach mash, poached egg, wholegrain mustard sauce at £11.50, or more delicate ones such as Pan Fried Seabass, new potatoes and sorrel sauce at £13.50. The most precious item is the New York strip at £16.50, the cheapest the pan-fried goat cheese with Portobello mushrooms and pine-nut salad at £8.50.

The bread does not arrive. You have to earn it.

Our selection of starters is

– Guinea fowl ballotine, salad, hazelnut dressing, bread (thank God, there is the bread!) (£5.50)

Ham hock terrine, red onion marmalade, salad and bread (OK, we won’t starve) (£5.50)

These are both appealing dishes. The guinea fowl is palatable, well-made, with a buttery, sweet impression which is well-matched by the garnish, especially the pine-nuts. The bread, though essential for our survival, is forgettable, of the ‘spineless’ variety.

The terrine has a more decisive flavour, it is drier and more acidic, all in a pleasant way, and is very nicely contrasted by the excellent, sweet onion marmalade. A perfect dish for this type of venue. Mmh, this is looking good, might become a regular spot…

While we sip our beers (more on this story later), our mains arrive:

– Home-made fish cake, salad and fries (£9.50).

– Confit guinea fowl leg, braised red cabbage, fondant potato, thyme jus (£12.50)

The guinea fowl has been cooked too much and is much too salty, and is therefore also dry. Not TOO bad but disappointing after the good starters. The cabbage, in a heavy-handed sort of way, provides rustic pleasure on the palate, but the potato is rather dull.

In the fish cake once again we encounter a very unwelcome excess of salt. The chips are really pathetic: defrosted and tasteless, if you discount the abundant salt, that is. The salad has a condiment in it which is unsuitable for Italians, but we think also for French people (and yet we are told the chef is French), and surely for you Brits too! And the fish cake itself? It comes spreading a very pleasant smell, but the flavour doesn’t match the expectation thus created, and it is not moist, it is not hanging together as it should: the crust is rock solid, the interior limp and mushy. A poor dish, memories of the one we had at Creeler’ longingly emerge.

Dear readers, we love you all but there is only so much we are willing to do for the blog…so prudence suggests we share a dessert.

– Banoffee pie with dark chocolate sauce (£4)

This was the last banoffee pie left, and we regret it hadn’t been eaten by somebody else. The portion is slightly ridiculous, the banana mousse (which in practice feels like a whipped cream with some banana flavour) is substandard, and the dough is seriously substandard, heavy and cardboard style (maybe bought in from a low quality outlet).

We drank some very interesting beers: a pint of Kolner (£4.00), a 330mls bottle of Meantime chocolate beer (£3.50) and a half pint of London stout (£?). For people like us who don’t know much about beer, this in itself made the visit worthwhile. All in all, the experience for two cost just £44.85.

The service was cheerful and helpful, really an asset of L’Oasis. The culinary experience started really really well for a gastropub. A real pity, then, that it went progressively down the drain. Given that there was some skill and sensitivity on display in the starters, we are inclined to hope that the rest was due to an off night. For £44 one cannot ask for fine dining, but for some passion, care, and honest flavours, yes. They were not available on this occasion, but we feel we should be willing to give l’Oasis another try. Or maybe just for starters and a drink…


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