Tel: +44 (0)20 7379 4793
Address: 6-7 The Piazza, Covent Garden, WC2E 8HA
Cuisine Type: international
Covent Garden (PICCADILLY)
Everyone knows of the Rock Garden. Over 30,000 bands have played at the venue below the restaurant since it opened in 1976. Some such as U2, the Police, Talking Heads and Dire Straits went on to greatness. All the sadder then that live music has all but died here, to be replaced by The Gardening Club (now with blood red walls) and a variety of DJs.
The other fact that everyone knows is that it’s right on the Covent Garden Piazza, where all the crowds go. What you may not know is that it’s also a regular haunt of bikers (we were told they come once a month but this could be an underestimate…). Now this is good news if you like looking a big shiny motorbikes – and I don’t dislike them in the least – but very bad news if you are sitting outside and want to enjoy a meal without breathing in a lot of carbon monoxide. Because the problem is that bikers don’t just arrive and leave on their bikes. They get on their bikes, start them up, rev a bit, wait for about a dozen others to join them, rev a bit more… and only when they think they have sufficiently impressed the onlookers do they actually ride off into the sunset. This may take some time.
However, there is better news for diners. I always thought of the Rock Garden as that place where tourists go for a very expensive burger. Funnily enough, burgers are still the best-selling item on the menu, but that may be due for a change. There’s a new menu in place as part of an ongoing process of taking the Rock Garden up market, and it’s well worth a look, for a choice that is not so much fusion as mix and match. There are some teething troubles with the new dishes – for example, portion sizes can be inappropriately large for the style of food, as with the hot and sour soup (£5.75). This was served with fish dumplings and Asian vegetables, and was good, but there was just too much of it. Slow roast pepper with goat’s cheese and rocket was a much better option – the cheese particularly creamy and delicious and the whole served appetisingly (£5.55). Green pea and mint soup was another tempting starter choice (£4.20) and there are also some good salads, including one with avocado, crispy bacon, Gorgonzola and apple (£5.80).
With the main courses the burger makes its comeback, though at £9.95 it needs to be good. It’s billed as “American-style 8oz ground prime beef burger, chips & fog city coleslaw or topped with Jack cheddar”. I’m sorry, dear reader, you’ll have to try it and judge for yourself. I went for Penne Agro Dolce (sweet and sour peppers, tomatoes and red onions with Parmesan and balsamic vinegar). It was great – perfectly cooked pasta and a very tasty sauce, for £8.80. My companion was persuaded to try the roast garlic chicken crown (£11.45) with char-grilled mushrooms, and this turned out to be a curious beast. Crown of lamb: fine. Crown of chicken? It seems to be the middle of the chicken that’s left after you cut off all the nice bits, and is correspondingly difficult to eat. However the flavour was good and the mushrooms were the huge field variety, with lots of flavour. Other possibilities, all around the £12-£14 mark, are grilled sirloin steak with roast vine tomatoes and fries (the tomatoes looked delicious), gnocchi with wild mushrooms, asparagus and peccorino and char-grilled tuna Niçoise salad. Roast sea bass is more expensive at £15.95. Side orders include a choice of minted new potatoes, fries or green beans for £2.95, salads at £3.95 and ‘crusted French style bread & butter’ which was good, but very pricey at £1.95.
Unless you are one of that strange, sad breed of people that don’t like chocolate, there is really only one pudding choice: The Rock Choc (£4.95). It is wonderful. It comes in a tall glass filled with layers of rich chocolate mousse (in three flavours: white, orange and bitter) and like everything to do with the devil, requires a long spoon. At the opposite end of the spectrum the tiramisu (£4.25) should be avoided at all costs unless you like large watery slabs of sponge cake, but there are other good-sounding options for the non-chocoholic, including a cinnamon waffle with hot cherry sauce and run & raisin ice cream (£4.55), a lemon brulée with almond shortbread (£4.95) and a selection of cheeses with walnut bread and spiced pear (£5.25)
Both the wine list and the waiting staff, like the food, are a mixture of cultures and continents – we fell into a bottle South African Sauvignon Blanc (£13.00), perhaps influenced by the accent of our friendly and helpful waiter. Both reds and whites start at a very reasonable £11, going up to £25 for a Chateauneuf du Pape (or £100 if you want to splash out with Dom Perignon). There are also beers (draught and bottled available), but do beware of mineral water at £2 for a 33cl bottle – ouch.
Rock Garden remains somewhat of an enigma to me. The night we were there the computer decided to go on strike so the service was rather slower than it should have been, with some mix-ups into the bargain. But the staff dealt with the problems well, which to me is half the battle. The food is getting there – some excellent dishes, some needing more care and attention, and I’ll be interested to see the next change of menu, which will take the ‘upgrade’ further. The ambience is fine as long as you don’t mind some noise – and of course, tables inside will be much quieter. But half the fun of Rock Garden is being out there in the thick of London, seeing and being seen, and as long as those bikers don’t come back too quickly it can be fun. Around £70 for a three course meal for two, with a bottle of wine.