I love Pimlico. Humdrum, deeply uncool Pimlico. Where Daily Telegraph online serials are set, where ‘father of lawn tennis’ Major Walter Clopton Wingfield lived, where no Londoner ever goes anymore. It’s the straight-to-DVD sequel to Bloomsbury.
I love it because it’s uncool. I love the stuffy Georgian townhouses, suggestive of fussy grandmothers and days decadently frittered away on Pimms.
It has the atmosphere of a second-hand bookshop or a primary school jumble sale. With Boris Johnson’s venture capital investment rave yet to shake the area from its slumber, it’s as far from the ersatz nonsense of Shoreditch as you can get. Pimlico is not a big name in London. Pimlico isn’t even a big name in Pimlico.
But even Pimlico, sleepy enclave of bourgeois respectability, is getting more youthful. At No.11 Pimlico Road, a former pub has been converted into a breezy sanctuary of nu-yuppy indulgence.
Big enough to host a game of cricket, flooded with natural light, No.11 is an undeniably wonderful venue. An inviting bar sits in the middle of a smattering of picnic benches, marble tables and an enormous, winding staircase, all surrounded by unfurling floor-to-ceiling windows. Grass-green tiles, parquet flooring and an abundance of houseplants completes the sense of airy informality. Once seated, you don’t want to leave.
Cleverly, the menu complements the decor. There’s an obvious inclination towards light, rejuvenative tastes. It all gives the impression of being the perfect place to overcome your hangover. Saturday morning revivals start here.
Aside from the main dinner and brunch options, there’s a sharing plates menu of about eight dishes. Crostini are excellent: smoked salmon, dill and horseradish is zingy in all the right ways, while the chorizo incarnation is vividly brought to life with a cracking dollop of avocado ‘salsa’, bursting with chili and coriander. Each one is a little mouthful of lively, competitive flavours. Your hangover has got no chance against a trio of these (£4.95).
There’s a big cocktail menu at hand, but two are singled out for the daytime – a Bloody Mary and an Elderflower & Earl Grey Gin Fizz, both £9. The Gin Fizz is as sprightly and sharp as you’d hope, but given the cocktail arms race London seems to be hosting these days, £9 would get you a lot more elsewhere.
Charcuterie is normally a cause for celebration, but No.11’s interpretation feels all wrong. What you get is four piles of sliced meat and a selection of fine bread which is already well on its way to becoming stale. Toscano salami with fennel is excellent, as its fast disappearance from the wooden serving platter attests. But chorizo, thin rather than thick-cut, falls short, lacking that richness you expect from the sausage.
A heap of roast ham fares worse, with its limp, papery texture carrying a correspondingly mealy flavour. Vanilla poached figs fail to make an appearance despite the assurances of the menu; a handful of baby gherkins serve as their humdrum replacement. A few slippery slices of mortadella bring up the rear, entirely forgettable and inexcusable on a charcuterie board. This should be an occasion for big, bold meaty flavours, chunkily-cut and redolent with smoke. Supermarket-style wafer slices don’t belong here, especially not for £12.95.
Helpfully, you can order a single cheese from the cheeseboard with accompanying biscuits, grapes and bread for £4. Our burrata di mozzarella is tough on the surface, but hey, we’re three hundred miles from Italy. Less forgivably, it’s served with a pot of apricot spiced chutney, which angrily clashes with the burrata’s tender, subtle flavour. An able partner to the other cheeses on offer the chutney might be, but serving it with the burrata feels slack. A handful of decent crackers, slices of walnut loaf and the same ciabatta slices from the charcuterie board do the rest.
A punchy salmon pâté (£7.95) is nice enough but fails to life the ensemble, while a gluey, tasteless slab of mac and cheese (£5) isn’t worth bothering with. In a selection united by flavours that aim for freshness and lightness, the mac and cheese feels like it snuck in from one of those awful children’s menus. Along with one or two other plates, it leaves the table unfinished, though the staff don’t seem too fussed by our apparent lack of appetite. I find myself casting envious glances at diners who are enjoying what looks like a decent brunch menu, with Eggs Benedict and Eggs Royale touching down around us.
There’s a decent kitchen here, despite some of our dishes. But sharing plates aren’t just something you can cobble together with whatever you happen to have knocking about. Sharing plates should each feel individual and unique, yet part of a coherent whole. They should have you all competing for the prime cuts, locked in heated debate as to which is the best dish. Aside from their crostini, No.11’s sharing plates don’t do this. Hedge your bets on the brunch instead.
Having such a beautiful dining space is an excellent attraction, and No.11 have made the most of it with their decoration. But the menu has to work much harder, especially when the prices reflect No.11’s proximity to Chelsea. And there’s the crux: despite the name, No.11 Pimlico Road belongs firmly in the territory of its illustrious neighbour to the west. It’s King’s Road chic, Brompton bravado, catering to the nouveau riche Dude, How’s My ISA? frat pack. Of course. Someone still loves you, Pimlico.
words Chris Zacharia