Field & Forest

Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 5777
Address: 22 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, London WC2
Cuisine Type: International
nearest tube station Covent Garden (PICCADILLY)

Frequenters of the trendy surf boutiques of Thomas Neals have a new watering hole in Field & Forest. The tiny entrance on Shorts Gardens gives no clue to the spacious basement with a curvy, retro glass door opening directly on to the central courtyard. The ceiling is of gently vaulted brick, the walls white and hung with huge coastal landscape paintings by Canadian artist James Lahey. There’s a video wall, showing soundless satellite TV against a soundtrack of relaxed world music (Buena Vista Social Club, Manu Chao). This mixed media feel continues rather inexplicably in the loos, where an American stand-up comedy routine is blasted at high volume.

Field & Forest is a bar, a diner, a restaurant… actually it’s not quite sure what it is, and that can make for some uncertainty about what to order. All the elements are fine in themselves but don’t quite gel into a cohesive whole. The menu created by head chef Rufus Wickham (Bibendum, Kensington Place, River Café) is short and interesting but doesn’t subdivide starters and main courses. Having ordered what we thought would be two of each, four dishes of roughly the same size arrived together. Each was good – but they certainly weren’t a natural fit. English roast wood blewits were delicious with baby spinach leaves, lovely big flakes of Parmesan and a perfectly soft-boiled egg (£4.75). Very spicy Merguez sausages come with a good couscous salad (£5.50 for starter size, £8.75 as a main course) and aubergine and red pepper pastry (£4 / £6.50) is a sort of layered strudel which was tasty, but could have done with a sauce. Crumbed plaice was excellent – the fish cooked to perfection, on a mound of ‘Berty’s mash, pea and carrot mess’ – heaven for those who like comfort food. Also superb was caramelised onion, anchovy and olive flatbread, which we had nibbled on while contemplating the rest of the menu (£3.75 / £5.75, though I can’t really see it as a main course… you see my point?) Vegetables or a rocket salad will add about £3 to your bill.

Puddings are simple (£4.50 – £5). There are sorbets and ice cream made on the premises (caramel ice cream was wicked – tasting like a really good crème caramel sauce, with just enough bitterness to make it interesting). Pear and almond tart had a good flavour but was a little dry – again a sauce would have been welcome.

The wine list is also short but carefully chosen, with a half a dozen reds and whites from around £12, fairly equally split between new and old worlds and including a very good Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc. If you want a pudding wine you are currently out of luck however, as the only options were port or aquavit. Odd really, considering that most of one wall is taken up with a long bar.

There are obviously a few teething problems here, which one hopes will be resolved. Waiting staff are welcoming and informal but service is relatively slow, the rate-limiting factor presumably being that dishes are prepared to order in the open-plan kitchen. However this was a quiet Monday night – I hope there are more staff when things hot up.

Field & Forest is modern, pleasant, good value (a boon in Covent Garden) – but what is it for? I think I shall probably return at lunchtime, when I suspect it will come into its own for a quick and tasty lunch.

– Helen Wright, 10/2002