Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Bleeding Heart Tavern

There’s something enticing about a restaurant name which so succinctly captures the visceral pleasure of food. Let us be frank: vegetarians are all very well – even if I don’t allow them through my front door – but the real pleasure of eating is in tucking into a red, rare steak until drops of blood are dripping down your chin. As you descend into a subterranean cavern from the bar above, the Bleeding Heart seems to offer this pure, animal pleasure: a pity, then, that it is quite so dull.

The Bleeding Heart – in name and in approach – taps into the Fergus Henderson school of British food, but where Henderson takes risks, offering up parts of animals that most diners expect to see on the butchers’ floor, The Bleeding Heart retreats into a Delia-inspired blandness that could not possibly offend the most timorous of London diners.

This is not to suggest that The Bleeding Heart is not a fine restaurant: an excellent venue, good service and good, solid cooking all amounts to a pleasant evening, but if you thought the forces of conservatism had gone the way of the Major government, here they are in force. A starter of lightly battered artichokes were crisp, light and delicate, but the mayonnaise with which they arrived offered little more than a comforting blanket with which to douse any element of dash from the dish. Other starters were similar: chicken liver parfait, asparagus and hen’s egg all represented a kitchen playing safe.

The Bleeding Heart’s sister operation, Trinity Hill vineyards in New Zealand, has long been one of my favourite producers in one of my favourite areas, Hawkes Bay. John Hancock’s wines are fine representations of the varietal characters that are expressed so cleanly on New Zealand’s north island: his Riesling and Chardonnay are two of the most reliable Kiwi whites I know, and his various bottlings of Pinot Noir are wines you’d never be embarrassed to serve whatever the company. The concern that lingers, though, over both Trinity Hill and The Bleeding Heart, is their very reliability: as wineries and restaurants alike become increasingly skilled, doing the basics well and rarely offering anything below competence, simply ticking the boxes is no longer enough.

I should not overstate my case: I would, quite happily, eat at The Bleeding Heart with a bottle of Trinity Hill for company. I would quite happily go once a week, and I would very happily stock my kitchen with John Hancock’s wines. The yardstick of success, though, is not contentment; for a restaurant or a winery to be a true success, it should provoke anticipation, excitement, and an overwhelming desire to spread the good news: a truly great restaurant should get the blood pumping even as it is dripping down your chin.

The Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart Yard, off Greville Street, London EC1N 8SJ
020 7242 2056

Food: 6
Drink: 7
Service: 7
Atmosphere: 6
Total: 26

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