In New York during the 60’s Joe Allen opened a restaurant in the heart of theatre land and it became a big hit with show goers and Broadway performers. Following that success, in the 70’s, Joe Allen opened his London outpost in the West End which also received similar popularity with the theatre world. If you’re a lovie or a West End Wendy then you would have definitely been to Joe Allen – it’s that kind of place.
Tucked away behind Covent Garden in a quiet side street you’d be forgiven for walking past the secluded doorway. Walk down the stairs however to the basement restaurant and you’ll find a rather busy and lively dining room.
It was seriously dark, larger than expected and had a real character to it. Framed posters of bygone shows covered every inch of every wall. The cloakroom lady, the gentleman playing the piano, the maître d’ all had a charm and smile about them that made us glad we’d arrived.
The paper menu listed fairly simple grub – no molecular gastronomy to be found here. It’s the sort of place I could take a fussy friend and know that they’d be able to eat most of what’s on the menu.
I started with the mac and cheese (£5.50) and for some reason I didn’t opt to add lobster (£9.50) what’s wrong with me?! It was pleasant – it reminded me of the one my Mum used to make at home. It could have been richer, it could have been creamier and it could have been cheesier – but it was nice.
You won’t find them on the menu but I’d heard many a good thing about the Joe Allen’s “secret burger” so I ordered the cheeseburger with bacon (£11.50). The burger could only be cooked medium or above (thanks for that Westminster council) but it was still very juicy. The glazed sweet brioche bun held its shape and the gooey slightly chewy cheese helped everything stick together nicely. It didn’t have the greasy, beef juice drip that you get from other burgers in town (Patty&Bun/Meat Market) but it was thoroughly delicious. Chips were crunchy and after a good sprinkling of table salt they were seasoned perfectly.
Unusually for me I was feeling rather full so we decided to share the pear, blueberry and plum cobbler (£6). It was basically a scone surrounded by a warm Ribena-like sauce. The scone had a crunchy top and a slightly soggy bottom from where it had soaked up the sweet fruity sauce but it was a really tasty dessert.
The food at Joe Allen’s was simple and enjoyable but the real star of the show was the buzzy atmosphere and the history of the place. During my dinner I had that same buzz that I get when the overture of a musical starts and that’s something rather special.