March’s whampreview at Little Bay was the biggest yet. Thirty one of us descended on the quirky Belsize Road restaurant spread across four tables already cluttered with menus, bread, cutlery and glasses. Over the course of a couple of hours we chatted, ate, drank and generally had a lovely time.
Little Bay’s menu has a few surprises up its eastern Mediterranean sleeves. The price is one – this place is famously cheap, espcially if you go off-peak. Alongside the standard menu there are also specials, which are more typical NW6 restaurant prices. But does cheap mean good value? We were about to find out.
The pigs cheeks proved a popular choice for starters. The three plates on Will’s table all got a thumbs up, “just an all-round solid dish”. It was also my option, and while my neighbours peered suspiciously at the food when it arrived, the empty plate 10 minutes later was testament to the taste (hint: it tastes just like pork, who’d have thought). The dish was also one of the high points of Anna’s table.
Choux de crab (that’s crab profiteroles to you and me) polarised opinion. The menu gives no hint of the fieryness that lies within – so those for whom it was a pleasant surprise liked it and.. well, you get the idea. Someone also commented that it “looked a bit rude”, which is the sort of highbrow conversation you can get at whampreview, although normally later in the meal after a few glasses of wine. This many also have been why Robyn referred to them as “food porn”.
|Choux de crab (with red pepper sauce)|
Crab wasn’t just available in choux form, there was also dressed crab which went down well, although Kat felt it could have been more ambitious despite the pleasing citrus zing. Garlic mushrooms were a hit – and made up for the longish wait Tom’s table had for their starters although as the conversation and wine flowed, no-one seemed to mind too much.
A plate of asparagus looked good, but the asparagus itself underwhelmed Divya (it is out of season, so perhaps no great surprise) while the accompanying coleslaw “had a bit too much to say for itself,” according to Will. Tom was more positive saying the spears were cooked just right and it was a simple but enjoyable dish.
Pastry also figures heavily on the menu – Blake opting for the mysterious sounding Parsons Pastry, which was a main course sized “definitely smoked” chicken pasty . Daniel C. liked his “big juicy mussels” – a perennial Little Bay favourite, while Laura’s mushrooms were “the best I’ve had”, and Debbie said they were “very lovely”. High praise indeed for the humble fungal.
|Mushrooms (with the red pepper sauce)|
From the starters, many of which came with a bright orange roasted red pepper sauce (or in Amy’s case roasted red pepper in a terrine) to the mains, some of which also came with a bright orange roasted red pepper sauce. Which, if like Sam you’d had already, was a bit disappointing. Meat dishes got a mixed reception – the steak struggling to elicit any enthusiasm: “the kind of steak-chips-sauce combo you could pick up at any pub chain,” according to Lizzie. And, inexplicably, it came with a yorkshire pudding. The lamb steak was well received – although not everyone had it cooked as specified, while the lamb knuckle “fell off the bone” in a good way!
The Belsize chicken – the house special I suppose – is chicken breast stuffed with minced lamb. “A bit odd,” said Ged. But “Worked really well,” said Sue, “very filling!”. Duck breast is another Little Bay favourite, although in this case Caroline and Goetz said theirs was overcooked. Isabelle opted for duck salad, and although the duck itself wasn’t perfect, the dish itself went down well, especially the “delicious, crunchy” pak choi.
The plaice (a fillet wrapped around crab) was another popular choice, although the “spicy” kick of that crab centre again took some by surprse. “Absolutely delicious,” said Debbie. “The centre of the terrine harboured a core of unexpected, unnecessary, overwhelming pepperiness,” said Will. The salmon was on the money for Ben and Tom: “Really nicely cooked and seasoned.” The sea bass worked for Tony: “good side dishes and sauces.” Divya liked the flavours and combinations but thought there needed to be more variation in textures.
|Sea bass (yes, you guessed it)|
Those red peppers reappeared – stuffed this time. “Very yummy,” said Rebekah and “Good taste,” according to Daniel L., but “tasteless” according to Federica.
I haven’t mentioned the wine, which is odd because quite a lot of it was consumed. The list is good and prices are broadly in line with the food – ie, reasonable. It’s actually a more interesting list than one might expect too.
Desserts were generally deemed perfectly acceptable, if not thrilling. Somehow Will contrived to get the word “historiographical” into his notes on the profiteroles, which I can only assume was a bet that he’s just won, while also describing the tiramisu as “po-faced”. If he’s not careful he’ll be doing all the write-ups from now on!
Despite some hits and misses in the food, the overall impression of Little Bay was positive, especially given the price, with tables paying between £22 and £28 a head (depending how much wine they got through). That’s £10/head cheaper than our last trip to Ladudu. The service at Little Bay was good, especially given how busy the restaurant was that night, with not just us keeping them on their toes. The slightly quirky decor also added to the evening, and the consensus was that people would happily come again. Little Bay is great value, an entertaining experience and long may it continue to be a local’s favourite.
Will’s table: 6.8
Jonathan’s table: 7.8 (must have been the company)
Tom’s table: 7.2
Anna’s table: too busy discussing American politics to score, so “an enjoyable and stimulating evening all round” will have to do.
228 Belsize Road
T: 0207 372 4699