When I mention the restaurant chain Giraffe to you, do you think of a sleek, funky space full of trendy young folk sipping gocktails and eating tapas? Or do you think of the Seventh Circle of Hell, full of shrieking children and yummy-mummies wielding their ankle-bashing pushchairs with the deftness of Darth Vader wielding a lightsaber? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. As every Londoner knows, the childless stray into branches of Giraffe at their peril. This chain has made its name as being child-friendly and yet still serving proper grown-up food with a fun, golbal twist. And given the general dearth of child-friendly restaurants in London, it also means that Giraffe is approached with extreme caution by the childless. But wait – what’s this? A branch of Giraffe tucked deep into the heart of Soho that was to all intents and purposes child-free when Michelle, Louis and I visited on a Saturday afternoon? Astonishing!
The Giraffe Bar and Grill Soho is the first Giraffe restaurant to have a robata grill and consequently the menu includes some items that you don’t find on a regular Giraffe menu, like Adobo marinated steak. There’s also a tapas-style menu with world skewers and signature comfort dishes like parmesan chicken kiev and the farmers market burrito remain. Spread over two floors, the restaurant has a clean, almost Nordic look to it with loads of light wood and a lighting installation made from recycled pickled jars that takes up an entire window wall. It was fairly quiet when we visited and we were able to get a table by one of the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the comings and goings in Frith Street.
We started with cocktails as we checked out the menu. I was totally smitten with my Soho bourbon blues – a heady mix of Jack Daniels, sweet vermouth, creme de cassis, blueberries and cranberry juice (£5.95). Bourbon can sometimes be tricky to include in a cocktail, overpowering other ingredients with its strident flavour and making the drink too sweet. But here, the tart berry flavours were the perfect foil and the whole drink was balanced and lovely – definitely love at first sip, and well priced for central London.
As a starter, we chose the sharing platter of chicken satay skewers, lime tiger prawns, teriyaki mushroom skewers, yakitori chicken skewers, nachos, crispy calamari rings and two dips – one a mayonnaise-based paprika and one a lightly spiced satay-type as I recall (£17.95). This was not an unqialified success. The food was not particularly warm (never a good sign) and the melted cheese on the nachos had congealed to such an advanced state of rigor mortis that it proved nearly impossible to separate the nachos. And when, by superhuman effort, I did manage it the nachos were slightly stale. The prawns were blamelessly tasty, but the satay and the yakitori skewers were both underseasoned and a little dry. The best of the plate turned out to be the calamari (crispy coating, not too chewy) and the teriyaki mushroom skewers – great black pillows of mushroomy goodness with a glaze of sauce (and bits of what we assumed was tofu thrown in for good measure). Overall, I’m not sure I would order this again. I did have designs on the pretty blue bowl that the nachos were served in though (prop envy!).
Mains were a huge improvement. Louis opted for the steak (28-day aged sirloin, rare breed from Mount Grace farm in North Yorkshire (£16.50) with bearnaise sauce (£1.25). Although at first he feared that it was medium rather htan medium rare, it soom became apparent that this was only the thinner end, and most of the steak was perfectly pink. The fries were good, although the bearnaise sauce lacked tarragon oomph and was too buttery (not two words I ever thought I’d hear coming out of my mouth!!). My farmers’ market vegetable burrito (£8.95) arrived as a soft tortilla brimming with roasted squash, courgettes, tomatoes, onions and pinto beans, mixed with feta and herby rice, and topped with pumpkin seeds, chilli oil, adobe sauce, jack cheese and tomato salsa. It was accompanied by an avocado salad in a tequila & lime dressing and was really good as Tex-Mex goes – filling but not too heavy. But the winner of the afternoon was Michelle’s beef short ribs with soy, honey & black pepper sauce (£10.95). These grass-fed beef ribs from Millers of Speyside in the Scottish highlands are slow roasted for at least 6 hours in their BBQ marinade until the meat is literally ready to fall off the bone. Michelle asked for a steak knife to cut them and the staff brought one, but assured her she would not need it – and they were right. Apart from being tender, the meat had a good depth of flavour and the dipping sauce was very moreish. Definitely a winner.
Side orders were equally successful. Beer-battered onion rings (£2.95) were feather-light and crispy and you could actually taste the beer! A perky poppy seed, red pepper & celery slaw (£2.25) was crunchy, tasty and not too mayonnaise-y – and I really like the addition of the poppy seeds – but red pepper and celery were not so much in evidence. I also adored the sweet potato fries (£2.95) which were crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and delicious all over.
Dessert were also successful, even if they weren’t rocket science (there’s a lot to be said for doing a basic dessert well!). Michelle’s key lime pie (£4.25) was deliciously tart and we loved the lime segments in syrup that it was served with, but the huge layer of whipped cream on top seemed artety-cloggingly unnecessary. Louis opted for the baked white chocolate, mascarpone and passion fruit cheesecake (£4.95). This was delicious and got bonus points both for its chocolate biscuit base (woo hoo!) and the fact that it was served topped with fresh passion fruit. I ordered the toffee apple crumble (£5.95), a dessert described on the menu as being “perfect for sharing” – and the reason why was instantly apparent when it arrived: it was huge! It was also delicious – steaming hunks of apple under a blanket of caramelly muesli. I only with I could have done it justice by eating more of it! I had my dessert woith coffee but did get a little taste of Michelle’s D’Arenberg’s The Stump Jump Sticky Chardonnay (£6.05 for 125ml), redolent with the flavours of sun-ripened apricots and quite heavenly.
Overall, I enjoyed our visit. Sitting by the window and watching the passing parade in Soho is always a good way to while away an afternoon and, other than the lacklustre starter platter, the food was all fresh, solidly prepared and tasty. The food prices are reasonable (as they are at all branches of Giraffe) and I thought the cocktails were positively cheap for London. The restaurant also has upstairs booth seating and a private function room with its own drinks serving area, projector and big screen – perfect both for private parties or for meetings followed by a meal. It’s a nice place for a mid-shopping bite or a meal after work, set back a little from the bustle of Oxford Street – and you won’t feel out of place if you don’t bring Junior in his Bugaboo
Liked: the cocktails (and prices!), the large windows for people-watching
Disliked: the lacklustre starters
On a scale of 1 to 10: 6
DISCLOSURE I enjoyed this complimentary meal as a guest of the Giraffe Bar and Grill.
Giraffe Bar & Grill, Soho
11 Frith Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 3491