Saturday, 27 November 2010

Lunch @ The Providores and Tapa Room

Is this the most pretentious bowl of noodles in London? Well if it isn't then it's almost certainly the one with the longest name: Smoked coconut, tamarind and liquorice laksa with a chicken lime leaf dumpling, green tea noodles, crispy shallots and coriander (£9.30).

Is this a laksa?
Full disclosure. The very notion of a fusion restaurant in chi-chi Marylebone High St appropriating the term, laksa, to describe a bowl of noodles, costing nearly a tenner, offends me on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin. That said, there was something about this dish that intrigued me and I just knew I had to give it a try.

First impressions weren't good. I wasn't expecting a large bowl of noodles but nor did I quite anticipate being served a kid's meal from Lilliput. On the plus side, the broth was different class with the liquorice adding another dimension. But was it a laksa? I'll leave that question to my Malaysian friends to debate further, but in my eyes it wasn't.

World's smallest dumpling
Sadly the rest of the dish was a bit of a letdown, the green tea noodles were overcooked and any subtle tea flavour that they might have had was lost in the aromatic flavoursome broth. The chicken lime leaf dumpling (singular) was nothing short of a joke. The chicken wasn't so much minced but ground to an almost powdery consistency. And could they have made it any smaller?

Joining me for lunch was El Greco and I asked him to see if he could spot anything vaguely Greek on the menu that he might feel was an affront to him or his forebears. He struggled but there was some feta in the sweet potato, feta, spinach, and herb tortilla with yoghurt, basil pesto dressing, pine nuts and greens (£8.80). This was a finely balanced dish that was better suited to summer rather than winter but it was good quality nonetheless. El Greco just wished there was more of it.

At least they were generous with the salad leaves
Has my hand grown?
We also shared a glazed baked duck char siu bun with chilli jam (£6.20). The name of this dish is confusing, if not potentially misleading. I asked the waiter if the bun contained pork, as char siu is taken to mean honey-roasted pork in Chinese. He checked. It didn't. The bun contained just duck. I tell you, this lax use of Chinese food terminology is something that really gets on my tits. To be fair though, the management took on board my constructive criticism of their misuse of the Chinese language with good grace.

Duck but no char siu!
Ignoring char siu-gate, the bun was the best dish that we sampled. It was freshly baked and filled with juicy roast duck but yet again, it was a complete rip-off. Given how small the bun was, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to be served three, in the style of dim sum, rather than one for £6.20. The only other (minor) complaint was that the chilli jam was slightly overpowering. In my opinion, plum sauce would've been a better accompaniment.

The Details
The Providores and Tapa Room is one of London's most celebrated restaurants and needs little introduction. It consists of two separate dining rooms, the first floor Providores restaurant and the ground floor Tapa Room. We dined at the latter, which being a more casual café-style operation is the cheaper of the two.

The owner, Peter Gordon is a famous Kiwi celeb chef and a champion of fusion cuisine. These influences can be seen throughout the menu, which is quite possibly the most irritating menu ever. For God's sake, is there really any need to list all the chuffing ingredients in each and every dish?

The bill came to £27.34 including 12.5% service – this was just for the food, as we drank tap water. Even allowing for its Marylebone High St location, this was bloody expensive for what it was.

The Verdict
Restaurants like The Providores and Tapa Room aren't my natural habitat. However, it wasn't the fusion cuisine that I disliked – our food was by and large fine – it was the relationship between portion size and price.

We could've easily eaten double the amount of what we ordered or to put it another way, spend nearly £30 each (without drinks) on a quick workday lunch. For that kind of price, there are many other places that I'd rather visit.

But hey, what do I know? Despite the exorbitant prices, this is a very popular restaurant and in the 45 minutes or so that we were there, it was never less than busy. No mean feat for a Tuesday lunchtime.

Providores on Urbanspoon

The Providores and Tapa Room, 109 Marylebone High St, London W1U 4RX
(Tel 020-7935-6175) Nearest Tube: Baker St


  1. I still can't get over the size of that duck bun!

  2. I take it you were not very impressed then.
    I've heard a lot of people bitch about this place.
    When I was training at Leiths, Peter Gordon came in and gave us a demonstration on his fusion food. It tasted pretty good, but it is so hit and miss, and I've tasted too many misses to want to do it again.

  3. Oh DEAR. Am I right in thinking it should be char knap? I can see where their intentions lie but it's pretty poor.

    As for that noodle soup - it sounds like a case of way too many ingredients. Take one or two out and it might have been great.

  4. Su-Lin - the funniest thing about the bun was that I had to cut it in half to share it with my friend!

    Mzungu - I didn't mind the food so much but it was shockingly bad value!

    Lizzie - siu aap is the Cantonese term for roast duck - I understand where they coming from but they should either get the usage right or not bother, when using languages other than English.

    The laksa was such a mixed bag. The soup itself was excellent and I didn't mind all the stuff that went into it. But they should've just used a plain rice noodle and served it with more than just a single dumpling.

  5. I have not been to providores and after your review I will not exactly rush there... I love the world's smallest dumpling :) What a joke!

  6. The whole dish is a little pretentious lol They are giving laksa such a bad name, give me a good Malaysian laksa any day!

  7. I've heard a lot of good things about Providores (albeit mainly the breakfasts), but never ate there myself. And what you say would not really encourage me either. That is not much food for £30 per person, although the quality sounds good. I dunno, it just sounds too so-so to make the effort to be honest.

    Incidentally, how does the laksa compare to Hare and Tortoise?

  8. Ute - the dumpling was so tiny and there was only one in the whole bowl!

    3HT - I would've much preferred a good old-fashioned laksa!

    Gworm - to clarify, the three dishes that we ordered cost £27.34 in total rather than per person. The point I wanted to get across is that we could've eaten twice the amount of food i.e. spend nearly £30 each, to feel anything like full. Anyway, which ever way you look at it, it's a rip-off.

    I'd rather have an H&T laksa any day of the week. IMHO, the bowl of noodles at Providores wasn't really a laksa and apart from the excellent broth, it wasn't very good.

  9. I'm not sure whether laksa is a generic name for curry (or thickened gravy) with noodles but the laksa that I grew up eating sure looks nothing like that. Then again, Giraffe used to serve green curry with noodles and called that Malaysian Laksa...

  10. LChow - I'm also not too sure what the origins of laksa are, but I'm pretty sure they don't encompass what I ate! That Giraffe 'laksa' sounds like a crime against noodles!

  11. I thought Providores serves British/European cuisine. So strange for them to be serving dishes like Laksa and dim sum, I can't get my head around it...which means that after your review. I will not be ordering those. =)

  12. C2S - I've always thought of Providores as a fusion restaurant. The menu is a gastro tour of the world and you'll see Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese, amd other Asian influences all thrown into the mix. Irrespective though, I think whatever you order, it'll be expensive!

  13. I couldn't agree more, well said!

  14. Elena - welcome! I guess that I'm not the target demographic for places like these.