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The Dartmouth Arms - a restaurant review

by Cornelia 

Posted: 02 October 2006
Word Count: 675
Summary: Here's one I prepared earlier - a review I wrote as an exercise on a Journalism course. The 'target publication' was one of the broadsheet weekend supplements.
Related Works: Cheap Eats in Greenwich • 

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The Dartmouth Arms
Area: Forest Hill
Category: Gastropubs
Address: 7 Dartmouth Rd, SE23 3HN
Phone: 020 8488 3117
Travel: Forest Hill rail or 122, 176, 312 bus
Hours: Open Mon-Sat 12noon-2.30pm, 6.30-10.30pm; Sun 12noon-9.30pm

Generally speaking, spending all evening round a table is my idea of nothing to do; when my son suggested celebrating his 40th birthday at a gastropub it sounded more promising than the West End rip-off joint where we’d been to honour his sister’s recent 41st.

The Dartmouth Arms is in Forest Hill, SE 23, and for those who don’t drive it is conveniently near the railway station. Once a gloomy local boozer, the inside has been divided into a cosy front bar with a selection of well-kept real ales such as ‘Breakspears’ and ‘Speckled Hen’, and a smart restaurant to the rear. Abstract paintings hang on the walls, suggestive of sun-drenched Mediterranean seascapes. The mood induced by a damp February evening in a fairly obscure corner of south London needs all the help it can get.

The menu was modest but inventive, with half a dozen starters, eight mains and five desserts. However, ordering two courses and finding out ten minutes later the starter was unavailable made a nonsense of trying to achieve a balance. It was only 8pm, and even though lunch as well as dinner is served seven days a week there’s no excuse for the waitress not to know about a shortage or for supplies to run so low.

My daughter reported that the Roscoff onion tart, in a beautiful shade of soft brown, had lots of soft buttery onions in a crisp shell and slipped down easily, followed by a well-cooked Duck Leg and Confit with earthy Barlotti beans. My Dorset Crab Beignets with Chilli jam were excellent . The subtle flavour and soft tender texture of the beignets, encased in a thin shell of light batter was admirable although the texture of the chilli jam was perhaps a little heavy and could have done with a hotter chilli taste to offset the sweetness. It was perhaps not the best choice with my main course, Pork Chop, Cavalo Nero and Baked apple with cider jus, but changing my order in a hurry hadn’t helped. The fair-sized chop was a little chewy but the plentiful dark jus achieved the right acid/sweet balance and the cavalo nero, a kind of cabbage on which the pork chop rested, had the flavour of a robust-textured spinach, an ideal contrast to the jus. The pork chop had a quarter-inch wide strip of fat with the rind, which would have been better removed and cooked separately as crackling. My husband’s fish stew with aioli was reported to be fine whilst my ex-husband enjoyed the flavours of his Black Pudding and Squid Risotto but not the texture of the calamari rings, which he likened to ‘rubber bands’.

I chose a black coffee instead of dessert and it was a pleasant surprise, served hot and flavoursome in a large porcelain bowl-shaped cup. The desserts included a crème brulee which I sampled – the topping was thin and crackly above a rich smooth cream. Other choices were Warm Brownie served with ice-cream, which came in a generous size, and Brinken, Colston Basset, Tillington with Quince preserve, which I would have ordered had I known the first three were cheeses. We had two bottles of wine and the men had double malts. The bill, at £152 for five, exclusive of a tip, seemed reasonable for the amount and quality of food. Service was prompt and good-natured without being over-obtrusive.

All in all, the value was good for the area, and I would go there again, given the necessity to eat out from time to time. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, on the evidence of raucous laughter, at which our waitress batted not an eyelid. As a French acquaintance tells me, ‘After all, Sheila, it is not about the food!’- something that is a good to bear in mind when dining out, in my opinion.

Star rating- 3/5

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Comments by other Members

scoops at 08:31 on 05 October 2006  Report this post

This is a lovely piece of writing and it works very well as a review. You touch on the personal, and I think it would generally have benefitted with a few more insights about the party around the table - for example, your son's response to the singing of Happy Birthday, or a little aside about the two husbands - as the fashion these days is very much for turning food reviews into a little tale about the evening or the event itself.

My only nit-pick is the intro, where the two thoughts aren't actually connected. The first half: "Generally speaking... nothing to do" is witty and sets the scene. The second half: "When my son suggested celebrating his 40th... more promising than the west end" does not naturally follow on.

You need to tie them together. Is it west end tables to which you have an aversion? Did the suggestion of a local venue make you rethink your position? What is the connection between the two points?

I seem to remember a similarly disjointed sentence in another submission of yours, so perhaps it's a style you're working on, in which case, please forgive me for not 'getting' it!! Best, Shyama

Cornelia at 14:42 on 05 October 2006  Report this post
Thanks, Shayama, for reading and commenting. No, a disjointed style is definitely not something I want to cultivate, so thanks for pointing out the tendency.


James Graham at 15:25 on 12 October 2006  Report this post
Cornelia, I agree with Shyama that this works very well as a food review - and also that it could have been a little more of a 'tale about the evening'. I'd never thought of this before until I read Shyama's comment, but to introduce more about the people who were eating (and serving) the food might be a way of broadening the appeal of a food review column. Recently my wife and I were served in a Highland hotel by a young woman from Lithuania, and got into conversation about Lithuania and Scotland (the place wasn't very busy at the time). In that case, though, the conversation was more interesting than the food, which (though acceptable) was a lot less inventive than at the Dartmouth Arms!


Cornelia at 16:08 on 12 October 2006  Report this post
Thanks, James, for your comments. I generally find the people much more interesting than the food, and as your Scottish experience seems to demonstrate a disappointing meal can be made special by a conversation.

One memorable occasion for me was when the table next to mine collapsed as some large American ladies rested their elbows on it. The Indian waiter slid over and reassembled the table in a trice, patting the joints with pride as he finished. Funnily enough, the the ladies had just been commenting on how delightfully authentic the 'oldest Indian restaurant in London' really seemed.

It's a shame such events can't be guaranteed.


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