Review | The Chophouse, Cabot Circus

Review | The Chophouse, Cabot Circus

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Guests at the Future Inn are not exactly a captive audience when it comes to dinner. Being a stone's throw from the Volunteer Tavern, or the myriad of eateries inside Cabot Circus, does mean a certain level of competitiveness should be employed. From a first impression it looks like The Chophouse are trying; special offers pepper the place, and manager Raivo greets us with impeccable manners and hospitality. It’s a quiet Thursday evening, too, so he’s extra-able to be the perfect host. The menu is vast, as is often the case with these hotel chains, but we manage to narrow the starters down to the Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad, and the Shell-On King Prawns.

The chairs are comfy, the beer’s cold, and the atmosphere is a relaxed one...

As we wait for the food, I put myself in the mindset of a guest who's just come downstairs from getting spruced up and is looking for some decent grub and a drink before his night out. The chairs are comfy, the beer’s cold, and the atmosphere is a relaxed one. So far, so fit for purpose.

Like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, I return from the toilet to find my first course waiting for me. The presentation is simple, but that’s no bad thing: six large prawns resting in a circle, bathed in dressing and rocket, with the flavour enhancing shells still intact. I dive in with my fingers to commence peeling, and have the unpleasant experience of encountering unexpected temperatures in the dressing. The finger-bowl does help cool the fingertips down, but I don’t think it was meant for that purpose. The prawns are fine, though; I put them all away- after letting the plate air for a bit. Rocket features again in Helen’s salad and, not being a fan of the stuff anyway, I’m beginning to have issues with its enthusiastic distribution on both dishes. A dash of peppery greenery certainly has its uses, but when every mouthful is one part beetroot/ten parts rocket, the beetroot isn’t going to survive. Not even the power of the curiously Stiltony goats cheese is up to that challenge.

I fancy a good wine to go with the steak I order, so Raivo brings over a glass of the house red for me, and the white for Helen. I neglect to ask further questions about either brand, and that’s probably my stupidest mistake of the week; both are fine specimens which I would love to have ordered a few bottles of. The chef's stupidest mistake of the week, on the other hand, may be allowing my steak to leave the pass.

lava-filled cherry tomatoes, bland oven-chips, downhearted mushrooms...

It isn't a nice feeling, asking: “Does the kitchen know this meal is being reviewed?” Even if the meat wasn't cooked three times longer than I'd asked for, it still wouldn't be a show stopper; lava-filled cherry tomatoes, bland oven-chips, downhearted mushrooms, all covered in excessive amounts of parsley confetti and spaced weirdly far apart, as if the ingredients had a falling out on the way to the table; it's a pretty boring plate of food. The onion rings are good, though, so I hang on to them while the rest of my rejected plate takes the walk of shame. Now I know what the New York Steak looks like, I'm not going to expect anyone to perform the impossible task of cooking this CD case-thin meat medium rare, so I simply ask for whatever the head chef would want to eat. As an invited reviewer, I do have the privilege of getting this stuff for free, but if you were in my position, you probably could, too, at this point.

In the mean time, Helen is avoiding the overcooked duck breast on her plate, and enjoying the tender and crisp duck leg which sits alongside it. The mashed potato has lumps in it, so it wouldn't get through on Masterchef, but I'm not a hater of coarse mash; I actually quite like it, as long it's salty and buttery. It needs a red wine sauce, mind you; just a little jug on the side would be just the ticket.

I'm the annoying person who sent his steak back, I admit...

My wild-card main courses arrives in good time, and I check the menu again to make sure I didn't miss something. Nope, I'm not wrong; this rib-eye wasn't on the menu or the specials board, and, as I chomp into its charred moistness, I can't understand why. It's a good steak! It almost makes me feel less apathetic about those bland accompaniments. I wolf it down, and arrange a meeting with the chef; I need to get to the bottom of this.

“I'm the annoying person who sent his steak back,” I admit, as an introduction.

“Sorry about that,” says a tired Chef McCarley, 26. “I'm working within difficult regulations.”

“Did you have to break those regulations to give me that perfectly cooked rib-eye steak?”

“I did, yes.”

We chat for a while. This guy used to work for Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park, for Christ's sake, and he just had to serve someone Stilton flavoured goats cheese, cheap chips, mean cuts of beef, and overdone duck. He's not embarrassed; he's beyond that; he wants change. His eyes moisten with nostalgia as he describes how they used to let him butcher his own meat, but now they deliver it pre-thinly-cut in vacuum packed plastic, making it difficult to serve anything below medium-well. He can't source his own ingredients, he can't be creative with the dishes. It's like a team of lawyers cooking a dish, while there's a perfectly good chef hanging around asking to help.

If any of the Future Inn suits are reading this, please just let the chefs do their job...

The thing is, though, everyone who works in the Chophouse appears to be lovely, and seemingly on the ball. I loved talking to these guys and being served by them. They just need to start serving something better. If any of the Future Inn suits are reading this, please just let the chefs do their job; no art is ever improved by arbitrary rules. If I return, I expect to see proper steaks, more attention to detail, respect for ingredients, and some bloody Bearnaise sauce! As a post-shower pre-theatre drinking venue, however, the Chophouse is probably great. I just hope they work on getting the whole package shining. It can be done.

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