Ghost Town by the Specials echoes through the empty hallways of the Birch, a grand red-brick hotel set on a 200-acre site on the southern edge of Croydon known as Selsdon. There are plenty of songs you can listen to in the hotel’s deserted public spaces on a Sunday night; Ghost Town really shouldn’t be one of them.
Terry Hall’s mournful ode to urban abandon echoes in the spacious entrance hall with its intricately painted floral ceiling and floral mosaic artwork. Luckily, there’s more life in the hotel’s brasserie-style dining room. It is called Verbena, another name for verbena. Yes, it may be a Sunday night, but there they are, under the wicker globe lampshades and peach-painted awnings and the roar of 70s discos, with ice buckets and cocktails .
This is the new iteration of the building, which was previously another hotel before being taken over by the same group behind the Birch in Cheshunt. The big idea: nature flourishes on the edge of the city. The surrounding golf course is being rebuilt. Chef President Lee Westcott has established a vegetable garden and promised to harvest some ingredients from his land. Foraging in Croydon seems less like a culinary imperative than the title of an indie band’s hard-hitting second album.
Here again, green streets and large houses. Maybe there’s something delicious to eat in these hedgerows. Westcott is in good form. He was once Tom Aiken’s executive chef. He managed restaurants for Jason Atherton in Hong Kong, then opened the much-admired Typing Room at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. For a time he worked at Pensons in Worcestershire, which won a star from a tire company. Now he’s in Birch with two restaurants.
Elodie is her big statement. It offers a six-course tasting menu for £69 per person. This is Westcott making his name. And I deliberately ignored it. Running a smart, ambitious restaurant with all the bells and whistles is tough. But overseeing a utilitarian brewery like Vervain, which has to accommodate people who stay for a few days and just want to eat but not get bored, can be even more difficult.
Can an ambitious boss make everyday life interesting? The first signs are not reassuring. The young waiters are friendly, but probably because they haven’t been trained, they’re not really proactive. You have to stop walking past waiters to ask for almost anything: drinks, menus, just to order. The sum of £14 for a plate of crudité straight from 1978, along with solid if unremarkable hummus, seems steep.
We enjoyed the slices of lightly toasted sourdough with Marmite butter sprinkled with roasted yeast, but not enough to accept the second helping they brought us by mistake, even though it was much tastier and better toasted. much. Then the newbies arrived and things improved. Each dish bears the mark of a chef who understands the fundamentals of these dishes but knows how to add humor and drama. Cod roe is beaten until lightly foamy and topped with crispy pieces of pickled kohlrabi and grated salted egg yolk. Here’s a better use for baking sourdough than Marmite butter. A piece of confit chicken arrives as a Jenga-style block, studded with sweet apricot sprigs and with just the right amount of meat jelly glaze to hold it together. Next to it is a spoonful of pureed black garlic and red onion jam.
Pay special attention to meat-free options. The beet “tartare” is diced, mixed with capers, shallots and chives and sprinkled with crispy golden potato-like noodles. The mild bitterness of chicory overpowers the sweetness of beets. A menu like this should have standard options: steaks, burgers, etc. But even half a grilled chicken here gets a thumbs up. The skin, like the accompanying fries, is amber golden and crispy; Aioli on the side brings something to the game without alienating your loved ones. A piece of skin-on cod is served in a pool of a thick yet creamy yellow pepper sauce, given life and depth by citrus notes. Sweet, nutritious barley pearls add substance. Fresh peas burst.
A few plump mussels helped lead the herd to shore. Once again, great thought and care has been put into making this piece of cod shine. Despite the hummus’s odd price, everything else seemed fair. Croydon’s famous demi-monde won’t be deterred by the $10 price tag charged for starters and mains priced mostly in the teens. On Fridays and Saturdays, I suspect the bar here is a noisy mess of conversations, gunshots and barely sublimated sexual tension.
That said, for all the breathless talk about facilities – the outdoor pool, the “wellness area,” the kid-friendly zone – Birch feels like a work is underway. new bite Spice company Steenbergs has launched three new spice blends in collaboration with cookery and food writer Sabrina Ghayour to mark the publication of her latest book.
It includes Persian blend, a mixture of sumac, lemon powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and rose petals, inspired by the bestselling book’s recipes first of the same name, published in 2014. It sits next to Bazaar Blend, suitable for everything from grilled meat and fish to salads and rice dishes, and Flavor Blend, named after the new title released this month ( steenbergs.co.uk). St Andrews will be the location of the second T-Squared Social, Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake’s new sports bar. The first store opened in New York last month. The bar and pub, due to open next spring, will feature a golf simulator, bowling and darts alley, and will occupy the site of the New Picture House Cinema.