The world has finally turned on it’s end – you can now get 4G reception in Joe Allens restaurant. This would have been helpful twenty two years ago when I emerged from the basement restaurant in Exeter Street after dinner with a friend to see nineteen missed calls on my phone. Apparently, I was about to become a father for the second time and if I could have jumped onto a magic time machine I might just have made it to St Peters in Chertsey to witness the event. South West Trains ain’t no magic time machine. I missed the moment. I did though, have form here. I also missed the first and indeed the third births in the family. I’ve never seen childbirth as either a spectator or participant sport and have persistantly believed that the safest place for the father, and indeed everyone else involved, is for him to be firmly on the other side of the closed door.
Of course, the reason that you can now get 4G reception is that Joe Allens, the iconic Theatreland bucket-list restaurant, has moved around the corner to Burleigh Street after 40 years in it’s old anonymous backstreet location. Always one with a keen eye for a bargain my daughter called and said, ‘Bad news and good news Dad…. Joe Allens has closed but reopened around the corner. They are doing a soft launch this week and food is half price….. I’ve booked a table.’ Broadly translated that means ‘You’re taking me out for dinner but it won’t be as hurty as it otherwise could be.’ I’m pleased she did.
Walking into the new place felt odd at first but actually, very little has changed. It looks as if they just moved every picture and stick of furniture a hundred yards and put a sign up saying ‘business as usual.’ I wouldn’t even bother reading any new reviews, they are completely surplus to requirements. Just read an old one from five, ten or twenty years ago and it will read the same. The waiters are just as camp, rushed and friendly. The piano still plays, (but no longer with the legend that was Jimmy Hardwick at the keyboard who sadly passed away in 2014 having played there for 37 years). There is no cloakroom at the new place which may be an issue for ladies who lunch and the bar has shrunk to a third or a quarter of it’s old length which is a shame, (I spent many hours at the old bar waiting for a table or a date and sometimes both). Otherwise, it is how it should be.
Joe Allens quickly became synonymous with Theatreland after opening in 1977 and it was the first New York grill style restaurant of merit in London. At the time, it wasn’t easy to find a restaurant serving salads of substance or indeed Joe Allens signature dish, the Hamburger, (and it’s still not on the menu). Now both can be found in a thousand imitators across the capital but few have the easy confidence and casual elegance of JA’s. The menu then is just fine with no major shocks for those, (like me), who are deeply suspicious of change.
I liked it before. I like it now. Perhaps the world hasn’t quite yet turned on it’s end.