Henrietta Bistro: Well-intentioned

What is it with restaurants attached to hotels? They never quite work. Guests want to venture out and try something different, particularly if they’re in a city as culinarily diverse as London, while walk-ins from the street are put off by the notion of having to sit with potentially more gauche out-of-towners. Henrietta Bistro (attached, unsurprisingly to the Henrietta Hotel on Henrietta Street – you get the idea; maybe some more originality merited?) is no different. On our recent weekday visit, there was a palpable absence of diners despite the nearby streets and indeed restaurants thronging. We were struck by this anomaly particularly since the Bistro looks so welcoming, with its wide-open windows and distinctively Mediterranean feel, a successful blend of chic and rustic, which it is hard pull off. All the staff we encountered were also exceedingly friendly, even if the cynic in me wondered whether this was perhaps in their desperation to get us to remain. Our evening passed pleasantly at Henrietta Bistro, but on a final assessment, the venue scores more highly on drinks than it does on food. This will be fortunate for many, since cocktails are served here until 1am. The inventiveness in the creation of said drinks was impressive, drawing successfully on influences and local ingredients from France and Spain. Similar thoughtfulness and originality is applied to the wine list. Clearly the intention with the food menu is also to replicate this formula, particularly since the head chef hails from Perpignan. The outcome, however, was less successful with our dishes being more miss than hit. Many places outside Spain try to recreate the deceptively simple ‘pan con tomate,’ a staple throughout Catalonia. It should not be very difficult: bread, olive oil, garlic and tomato are the bare minimum ingredients required. At Henrietta, the dish was a distinct fail. Greasy and flabby would be the apposite words. We also struggled to get excited about a plate of chipirones. These were battered beyond belief with the poor baby squid being virtually unrecognisable. It wasn’t all bad though, with flashes of the kitchen’s potential evident in a lovely octopus dish (the fish had apparently been cooked for three and a half hours) and a thoughtful preparation of lamb cutlets with olives and aubergine. Pricing is fair, with most dishes in the £8-12 range, but choose carefully or just stick to the drinks.