Friends Restaurant, Pinner: When in suburbia (September 2013)

A weekend trip saw us 20 miles North West of London, back in the semi-rural suburbia where I had grown up. Pinner was the destination for our meal and Terry Farr’s Friends Restaurant, a long-established institution on the local scene, had been recommended. I had last dined here close to a decade ago, and while it would be fair to say that my culinary horizons had widened during this period, Friends provided a perfectly acceptable, if not obviously good value local option. Pinner’s High Street constitutes a welcome antidote to much of the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon’s otherwise drab commuter spots with its High Street affording more of an old-world feel, Friends being among the mock-Tudor timbered buildings along the street. We were greeted warmly, shown upstairs to a fairly attractive table, ducking under the wooden beams to get there. We were also impressed that my dining comrade’s vegetarianism was well-catered for, even pre-empted, with a non-carnivorous/ pescine amuse bouche brought to the table (something that both the Square and the Greenhouse in London – clearly much more prestigious restaurants – had quite conspicuously failed to do) and three different mains offered. While things clearly started very promisingly, we did not feel that the food quite lived up to expectations, the wine list was unmemorable, the service inconsistent and the atmosphere gone by 10. Taking each point in turn, first the food. While my comrade did enjoy her wild mushroom, artichoke and quail’s egg fricassee starter, finding it creamy and balanced, my venison capriccio bordered on the bland and was not augmented by the slightly random inclusion of grapes. For the mains, the situation was reversed with my monkfish loin and black risotto proving a hit, and certainly quite innovative, while my comrade’s grilled courgette and aubergine ribbons soon became repetitive and contained very little of the promised goat’s cheese. Onto the wine, our Albarino was a fair match for the dishes, but I could not help but note that the same bottle could also be obtained without too much difficulty at the Wine Society or Majestic. More egregious was the South African Sauvignon Blanc on the menu, priced here at £21.95, but currently on promotion in Majestic for £5.59. A bit more originality, perhaps? In terms of the service, the stand-out moment was quizzing our server on the cheese platter we shared for dessert. Evidently she had never been asked this hardly controversial question before, looked like a rabbit in headlights, and was forced to check with a colleague. By this time though we were fairly ready to leave, being among the few remaining customers. Behind us, tables were already being rearranged and reset for tomorrow’s lunch sitting. At just over £100 all-in, we felt we would have got much better value at many locations in London. And, next time in Pinner (hard to know when…), Carluccio’s or Zizzi may be a safer option. Not ground-breaking, but certainly cheaper and perhaps more lively