What: Giraffe Bar & Grill, world food
Where: Frith St, Soho (but there are branches all over the country)
Price: approximately £35 a head for a three course meal and a bottle of wine (but you could easily do dinner for £15 each if you’re on a budget)
Rating: 4 stars for service, 3 for food
I recently read a review of Nando’s. Published in the New Statesman in 2010, it was written by Will Self and full of the typical dry wit and post-modern edge the writer is known for.
Never one to turn down an opportunity to emulate Will Self’s writing, nor free food, I jumped at the chance to review a mid-priced chain restaurant serving a safe interpretation of ‘world food’. Giraffe started in 1998, nearly 15 years later, the eaterie has popped up in various British cities – introducing falafel to high streets brimming with anglo-Italian brasseries.
Giraffe Bar & Grill is the sexier sister restaurant of the brightly coloured Earth Mother that is the original brand. Gone are the cheery messages of Love, Eat, Live and miniature plastic cocktail-giraffes (alas, I always enjoyed tromping them across my dining partners’ plates), and dark leather couches, a glossy bar and mood lighting fill their place. A Vampire Weekend soundtrack and bored-looking couples are still present, but hey, this was never going to be the hippest place in SoHo.
The menu offers ‘world food’ in the sense that different cliched tastes of the globe are smushed together on a plate. It’s beyond me why Mediterranean vegetable and (albeit non-squeaky) halloumi skewers are dished up with a roast pumpkin seed and chilli oil dressing, for example. The Yakitori chicken skewers, however, were more convincing. Served with soy-green onion dipping sauce, they were a little over-sweet for my taste, but moist, and the easy sharing nature of both made for a great relaxed starter.
Throughout, the service was impeccable. Truly, some of the best I’ve had in the entire city. Arguably, London can be slack for attentive service, but we were offered wine tasting, recommendations and patience in generous servings – something you really don’t expect in a no-frills franchise, not least one in the central London.
I went for the sirloin, ‘New York Style’ – even if cooked on a Japanese open flame grill – steak. Rare. It was surprisingly pink when it arrived, even if the meat was a little tougher than I’d have expected, and presented with an informed flourish of its cut and style by our lovely waiter. My dining chum opted for the Giraffe burger, and it popped out puffy-breaded and as she ordered, with a peculiar arrangement of salad outside the bun. On both, our sides of fries were hot and crisp, despite being served up on big wooden platters – something which always freaks me out a little. I guess it’s ethnic, or something.
Positively bursting, we continued on our mission to test three courses, and I plumped for the most delicate of ladylike desserts: a whopping slice of Baked White Chocolate, Mascarpone & Passion Fruit Cheesecake. It was actually surprisingly light, without the all-too-common stodgy biscuit base and enough passion fruit to justify its inclusion in the title. On the other side of the table, the duly outrageous Soho Sundae appeared, full to brim with chocolate sauce, a few cursory strawberries and a near-obscene lump of vanilla and honeycomb ice cream. Needless to say, it defeated us. Next time, Soho.
All in all, a thoroughly pleasant evening. No, it wasn’t a gastronomic tour-de-force, despite what the menu may otherwise have intentioned – I may be in one of the world’s most multicultural cities, but there’s little need to go around the world in 80 minutes, still sat at a 2′ square table. However, Giraffe Bar & Grill served up remarkably good value for money – big portions, hot places, and service you genuinely believed in. Which is more than can be said for Soho’s other chain dining spots – Wahaca, Byron, and Giraffe’s next-door neighbour, Nando’s. I daresay I might even put my overlong neck on the line and pop back.
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For Giraffe Bar & Grill’s excellent offers, click here.