This weekend, one of my favourite restaurants closes its doors in Exeter Street, Covent Garden after 40 years. But happily all is not lost, for the iconic Joe Allen is moving only 25m down the road to 2 Burleigh Street.
Since hearing the restaurant was under threat a few months ago, due to actor Robert De Niro buying a large corner site at the Exeter Street/Wellington Street junction in WC2 to open a boutique hotel, I’ve been feeling very sad. I’ve been regularly going to Joe’s for at least 20 years (mainly with my good friend Annie), and first ate there well before then in my full-time publishing days. When I started the blog back in 2011 and wrote a review, I got a lot of support from their lovely general manager Cathy Winn, interviewed their then head chef and when the restaurant was sold a couple of years later to two restaurateurs I already knew from my local area, Lawrence Hartley and Tim Healy, I got an early interview with them about their plans, which was very exciting for me. I came to know their two restaurant managers, Deborah Fellows and Stewart Moss, who are always so friendly and welcoming, and would chat on the phone when booking and they’d bring a glass of complimentary fizz when they saw me in the restaurant. It’s no wonder I feel at home in the place. How was I going to manage without it!
Joe’s is very much a theatre land and media love and some famous people like Graham Norton and Monty Don worked there early in their careers. It’s always been a favourite haunt of actors, from Sir John Gielgud to Dames Judi Dench and Harriet Walter. Even the Observer‘s restaurant critic Jay Rayner, who’s definitely not soft touch when it comes to writing about restaurants, talks about it having ‘a special place in my congested heart’.
If I’ve been sad, then I’m pleased to say that the Joe Allen team have embraced the enforced change with enthusiasm. Their sister restaurant Orso has had to close completely but they’ve found another location for Joe Allen and it’s moving just a short distance down the road. The intention is to take everything with them, and I mean everything, even their splendid bar.
The show business posters that adorn its walls will go too. We’re told that there will be some new things but in essence, Joe Allen will be reincarnated a few metres away from its old home in Exeter Street. As a love of my restaurant life, it’s hard to imagine it will be quite the same yet I know really I shouldn’t worry. There was lots of worry from regulars when Lawrence and Tim took over about things changing, but the changes weren’t obvious, they were subtle ones and all for the better. Many things improved at Joe’s, most notably the food went up a notch or three. So, in the spirit of embracing change, I’m looking forward to a new era of Joe’s in Burleigh Street.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t let them go from Exeter Street without a final meal and so I suggested it as a place to meet to my friend Chris last week; a friend from my publishing days she also knows it well and was a bit shocked to hear of the move. We met early – 6.30pm – and had the early evening set menu as I usually do, which is great value at £14.95 for 2 courses, and offers a 125ml glass of house wine for just £3.00.
I had ‘Pea, Broad Bean, Fennel & Mint Salad, Pecorino, Lemon Dressing’.
Everything was so fresh and delicious with a lovely but not overpowering dressing. For my main course I unusually took a vegetarian route and chose ‘Chestnut and Mushroom Arancini with Tomato Sauce and Parmesan’.
This was really delicious too and the sauce had a rich, full flavour. It was so nice to end my Exeter Street experience on a high note with a great meal.
The ‘new’ Joe Allen opens on 1 September. To find out more and keep up to date, visit their website: www.joeallen.co.uk