Monday, November 26, 2007

An Uneconomic Look at the Economics of Local Eateries

Written by Jan Henning
(with thanks to Judith Shapiro for the Beta)

Given English Michelin-star restaurant economics these days, can LSE students still hope to eat out in WC2? Read on…..

In a recent interview, chef Heston Blumenthal announced that his fish-and-chip platter contained a total of five chips.

Checking the sample menu at Heston’s restaurant; I’d estimate the price of the fish-and-chip platter at around £30 (His à la carte 3-course menu weighs in at £80; platter probably a Main); so, if we assume that the fish covers about 2/3 of overall price, each chip would be worth £2.00
Given that an average bundle of chips from a traditional fish shop takeaway runs into at least double figures (for approx £1.50), we might infer any or all of three things about Heston’s variety.

  • The five chips are so huge as to stretch the definition of “chip” to its uttermost boundary;
  • They are extraordinarily labour-intensive to produce;
  • They contain an above-average to-die-for factor.

If you’d really like to pay these prices (as well as the price of a trip out of London to Bray), here’s the link to the Fat Duck -

However, it might be less time-consuming, more profitable and indeed, pleasurable, to look at what’s on the doorstep.

The following establishments (a random personal choice) are all within walking-distance of LSE. Some have even been known to serve chips (NB: if these are described in the menu as “French fries”, you should rigorously apply the to-die-for factor [dff]).

1.The White Horse Pub
Sheffield Street WC2

Walking-time from St Clements Building: 0.5 minutes

Ambience and comfort-factor: Limited. It’s a tiny establishment with a bar-stool fixation – only one table-with-chairs. One average-size party of miscellaneous admin staff will crowd it out. (Students are also now welcomed, following a recent management-policy change).

Menu: Limited to sandwiches and toasties.

Dff: Also limited, but that’s not what you’re paying very reasonable prices for (around £2.65 per sandwich). The sandwich variety is very good, if maybe a little hearty-meat-oriented – sausages feature quite a lot. The drinks are reasonably priced also.

Miscellaneous: the two-man bar/cooking staff work well together, and are kindly and welcoming.

2.Coopers Wine Bar:
49a Lincolns Inn Fields, WC2A 3PF

Walking-time from St Clements Building: 1 minute

Ambience and comfort-factor: Depends on when you visit. A crowded lunchtime can be very unrestful. They have a ground-floor restaurant, and a cellar-bistro (more limited menu, lower prices); so you very rarely get turned away for lack of tables.

Menu: Regarded as reasonably-priced for its neighbourhood; it can actually be a bit high, if you go for things like the crab-starter. On the other hand, the other starter-size salads are very reasonable, and quite exciting (try their signature dish of lightly smoked chicken with salad and lime and honey dressing). No one minds, BTW, if you just have a starter-portion. They’ll also do you a single bowl of chips, if you ask. Price approx £1.60 – but they’re “French fries” (which means uniformly thin. You suspect they’ve been factory-extruded and bought in by the packet). Not terrible, for all that.

The wine list, is of course, what makes the profit, so be prepared for high-ish prices on all drinks (soft drinks also somewhat overpriced). A good choice of wines at all prices, however.

Dff: When things are at their singing best at Coopers, some of the food is delicious, and well above the level you’d expect. They can have off-days, however.

Miscellaneous: Coopers is fairly well-established. The owners are always friendly and welcoming; but the turnover of agency staff sometimes renders service a little uneven.

3. The Terrace
Lincoln’s Inn Fields WC2A 3LJ

Walking-time from St Clements Building: 1.5 minutes
Ambience and comfort-factor: This relatively new restaurant is situated in a hut behind the tennis courts, and can be a bit draughty. Also when it’s crowded (which is frequently), your neighbour’s elbow comes very near to being in your soup.

Menu: This is owned by a Named Chef – Patrick Williams – who blends Caribbean and French cuisine. It’s thus not cheap from the à la carte, but the 3-course “taster” lunch at a set price (around £11 a few months ago) is excellent value.
The chips – which here come with a beefburger all set out on a square wooden block; are hearty and MAY be authentic. The wooden block is a trial, however.
Wine menu is extensive but expensive. So is the bottled water.

Dff: Can be sublime. Jerk chicken with plantain, the signature dish, is wonderful. Desserts are a bit blah.

Miscellaneous: The service is often agonisingly slow; so don’t go there if you’re in a hurry. Staff are pleasant, but they’ve somehow never solved the time-factor. They may need Gordon Ramsay!

4. Oops
31 Catherine Street. WC2

Walking-time from St Clements Building: 7 minutes
Ambience and comfort-factor: This is a newly-opened tapas restaurant, with probably the worst name in London – EVERYONE’S told them about this, but they stick stubbornly to their guns. The interior is a rather gloomy brown too.

Menu: The food redeems the name with a really exciting variety of smallish dishes to suit every palate and every pocket. The lunchtime set-menu costs £12.95 for four dishes, plus a glass of wine. The à la carte can be a bit pricier (and more varied too, to be fair); and there’s a blackboard of specials every day; which includes delicacies like fried razor clam and real calamari complete with tentacles. Well, whatever floats your boat!
Wine is actually quite reasonably priced here.

Dff: You may find a lot of exciting new experiences here – not all to die for, to be sure (super-hot pimentos, anyone?). However, the basics – chorizo, morcilla, doritos are all delicious; and you can’t go wrong with the octopus!

Miscellaneous: Service can be sketchy at times. Also – beware of matinee day – Thursday. The restaurant is situated exactly opposite the Lord of the Rings musical.

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