Where: Burleigh St, London.
What: American style brasserie.
How much: Set menu from £20, a la carté three courses with drinks £50+ per head.
To quote their own website, Joe Allen is ‘the classic theatreland American brasserie’, tucked away in the West End round the corner from Covent Garden. I start this tale on a Lunch-Drinks-Show day out with the girls some months ago when we made a blow out lunch mistake at a previous favourite eatery that has quite frankly gone to pot. After parting with ninety odd quid for warm cocktails and obnoxious service, we shuffled down The Strand to catch our performance and went past the titular venue of this particular post- Joe Allen. I knew I had been here before some millions of years ago with my Dad, and I noted the classic decor, the happy looking punters within and the massive lack of pretence. Imagine a menu with starters, mains and desserts. Imagine not being charged fifty quid just to book. Imagine management not feeling a need to employ door staff to refuse bar access despite the place being half bloody empty!?! I made a spot decision that the next time I was up West, I was going to Joe Allen. That was a good decision on my part
Flash forward a bit and it was Bestie Day Out for a Harold Pinter matinee and some appropriate refreshments. Giddy from breaking our spending rules and ready for some grub, we arrived at JA just in time for lunch service. It’s a busy and classic dining space- small tables, dark wood and endless theatre memorabilia with absolutely horrendous lighting if you’re an Instagrammer. It’s cosy, and feels smaller than it is, holding the general hubub of diners at a just comfortable level so that you can chat without feeling like you’re shouting no shattering the peace for other diners. There will be other diners there, probably quite a few of them. Plenty of tables were well underway when we arrived at midday and it was positively heaving by one o clock- it’s a popular joint, and understandably so.
JA boasts a hearty menu, but don’t let the ‘American’ tag fool you into expecting nothing but fried stuff and mild cheese. Yeah, you can have soup and a steak if you want, but let your eye wander, consider some croquettes, debate a confit duck leg or parmigiana whilst sipping on an expertly prepared but not eye wateringly expensive cocktail (house specials and all the expected standards available at around a tenner).
As is our want as middle ages ladies, we kicked off with Bloody Marys and a couple of ‘for the table’ nibbles. Holy moly, what a Mary they serve. It is a rare occasion these days for a girl to get a Bloody Mary without wading through a million unnecessary add ins or suffering a barkeep who is hellbent on making you cry actual tears of Tabasco. A Joe Allen Bloody Mary is full tilt bloody perfect, served in a chunky crystal cut glass that creates the mood of being a 50s mobster grabbing a dingy drink before embarking on some charming light crime, rather than just a theatre punter on a visit from darkest Essex.
On to the food- special mention to the roquefort dip from the for the table menu. Enter stage right a bowl of ridiculously punchy, sort of whipped blue cheese thing to be
fought over spooned up with chunks of warm, soft pretzel. Sharp and stinky as roquefort should be with a distinctly creamy finish. Marvellous, and showing as a ‘for the table’ options rather than a starter as you wouldn’t want a whole one to yourself. Well, you would, but you would probably regret it if you had to walk anywhere else that day. Spot on.
The Joe Allen Hot Dog (and more Marys) then took centre stage- a beef frankfurter jammed into a soft brioche bun and smothered in ketchup, mustard and crispy bits with some pickles and fries on the side. Divine. And when you pay fifteen quid for a hot dog, it needs to be divine really. This choice might seem like a misfire given all the other delicacies on offer, it is just a hot dog but you know what, we love a hot dog and JA do a good one. JA also don’t make you feel like some kind of rube if you’re over the age of 12 and you want to order a hot dog and it is served up with as much gusto as the more cheffy dishes. I would be entirely behind my choice had a group of well lubricated ladies at a nearby table not all ordered the lobster brioche which gave me mild/moderate lunch envy. A good reason to go back.
Further service stalking of other tables showed that the gnocci looks and smells absolutely fabulous and anyone voting for a salad option is not missing out on the culinary experience (duck and white radish, wowza).
After all that bread and tomato juice, we took a quick dessert of coffee and chocolates to round things off and left satisfied and not too far out of pocket on about £100 between, service included. Note that service of 12.5% is added to your bill automatically and not that easily spotted.
You can get a decent boozy lunch in a load of places in London for fifty quid a head, but it is the casual elegance and complete lack of attitude that makes me certain I will be returning to Joe Allen when the next opportunity presents itself. The staff are friendly without over selling it, the food is hearty and generous and the dark and borderline cluttered interior is just a hairs breadth on the charming side of cheesy. I love it. I’ll be back.
Main website with direct booking: https://www.joeallen.co.uk/