I’ve never celebrated 4th July before. Well, I’m not American; I’m a Londoner through and through. But when I received an email from Joe Allen about their special 4th July American Independence Day menu featuring burgers, clam chowder, barbecue ribs and chocolate brownies for pud, it was an offer not to be resisted. And anyway, by chance Annie and I had already planned to meet that evening and there’s not much that can keep us away from one of our very favourite haunts.
Joe Allen has been having a bit of a makeover with the new owners Lawrence Hartley and Tim Healy now on board and regularly seen there. There’s nothing different that stands out when you walk in – which is a consoling thing for this long-time Joe Allen lover – and you will even see the same staff who have been there for years, including Jimmy at the piano where he’s sat for 36 years! No, the changes are subtle and all about improving things, some of which I talked of in my interview with Lawrence and Tim at the beginning of May.
Last night Joe Allen was buzzing. American flags were strewn across the restaurant and everyone was having a good, celebratory time. Tim had brought his family in to join the celebrations and soon Annie and I were sipping at glasses of prosecco and deciding whether to go for ‘Delicious All American Chopped Salad’ or ‘Manhattan Clam Chowder’ to begin. There was ‘The Original Mac and Cheese’ too. We both went for the chowder, a rich, tomato based soup with chopped vegetables, herbs and sweet-tasting clams.
I was momentarily tempted to the sticky ribs for my main as I’m reading Jay Rayner’s A Greedy Man in a Hungry World at the moment in which he talks of family outings to Joe Allen when he was a child and eating ‘proper Caesar salads and plates of sticky ribs’. However, in the end, I went with the burger, as did Annie. I rarely eat burgers. When I was a child, a treat for many years was being taken to the Hard Rock Cafe in Piccadilly and entering a kind of alternative heaven. More recently, I went through a phase of going to Gourmet Burger Kitchen when they came to Richmond and enjoyed them, but I haven’t done that for years. A few weeks ago a friend suggested going to a well-known burger joint in London and I was hugely disappointed. So, what would I make of Joe Allen’s burger. A burger that is normally in hiding – i.e. not on the menu, you have to be in the know and ask for it! – but was being given pride of place on the 4th July menu.
The answer is, it was was great burger, perfectly cooked and nicely pink inside; juicy and tender, in a good brioche bun with a nice thick slice of beef tomato and lettuce inside. The accompanying fries were crisp and delicious. We ordered some house red wine, a Languedoc, to go with it which was very good. Annie and I don’t normally have dessert but I was in the celebratory 4th July mode and wanted the rich chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.
Well, if you’re going to indulge then do it properly! It was deliciously rich and chocolatey. There was strawberry shortcake too and grilled mixed fruits with maple syrup cream. We shared one brownie and had an Americano each. We’d arrived at 6.30 and it was past 9 when we left; it had been a really lovely evening and we’d enjoyed our meal. Joe Allen was still buzzing and full as we climbed the stairs from the basement restaurant and emerged into the dying light of a warm evening in Covent Garden. And following the arrival of the new owners and insecurities amongst regulars about what changes might be made, surely the fact that it was full and people were obviously enjoying themselves was celebratory too. For Joe Allen is still a great place to go and you can be sure I’ll be back soon.