Despite what you think about being serenaded during your meal, here, it’s worth the trip, says Ibrahim Salha
When it comes to the biggest no-nos in restaurants, the list for some of us just keeps getting longer and longer: wearing perfume that’s too strong; being too loud; being rude to the staff; are all pretty significant red flags.
Until recently I probably would have also listed singing at the top of your lungs in a packed dining room.
Short of forking food off your plate, it’s surely one of the worst sins you can commit in a restaurant setting, isn’t it?
Joe Allen, however, has taken this and spun it into, well, something rather wonderful. The mainstay of the West End, as ever-present as The Lion King or Les Mis, has used its connections to the world of theatre and invited the stars of a selection of musicals to perform while diners eat brunch.
When we go, it’s the turn of the cast of Come From Away, the mind-bogglingly popular musical set in the week following the 11 September terror attacks.
We order brunch as normal, choosing from the short menu of classic dishes, and midway through eating our brioche toast and soft pretzel with blue cheese dip we’re treated to a few songs from the supremely talented cast.
It’s a brilliant distraction, and most importantly, doesn’t feel at all gimmicky.
This sort of makes it sound like the food is something of a side dish, but Joe Allen excels at serving up some of the most reliable brasserie dishes around.
It’s that classic New York lack of fussiness, food cooked and seasoned well – and tasting exactly how pancakes, waffles or grilled steak and eggs should.
The presentation is suitably perfect and theatrical, in the sense that it looks like something someone in a play or TV show might eat. Which is obviously a good thing. Perfectly fried, cartoon-like eggs sit alongside an impressively cross-hatched bit of rump. The star of the show, though, is the hash brown, which is densely packed with brilliantly salty mashed potato.
Equally good is the Eggs Joe Allen; poached eggs on top of more of those hash browns, this time nestled in a deep tomato sauce (what they call “red sauce” in New York) and covered in a hollandaise. It’s a big, bold dish, and so it should be, if it’s to be worthy of the restaurant putting its name on it.
Desserts – usually an afterthought at brunch – are also reliably good, particularly the buttery pecan pie, which deserves higher billing. It shouldn’t be overlooked.
Future performances are yet to be announced, but it’s still worth heading to Joe even if there’s nothing on; the food is good enough.
Even without musical accompaniment, you’ll find something to sing about – but, if you can help it, that’s best left to the professionals.
Joe Allen, 2 Burleigh St, London WC2E 7PX; 020 7836 0651; joeallen.co.uk