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The Spread Eagle

Stephen Higginson found art on the plates as well as on the walls

It is often said that London is a collection of villages, and that notion is nowhere better embodied than  Greenwich. Thankfully it has not yet been fully gentrified, and still boasts marvellously unsmart ‘village type’ shops, pubs, a higgledy-piggledy market and some delightful 18th century architecture. It was only a month or two ago that, sadly, a wonderful old traditional pie and mash shop closed in the high street. We would not have been surprised if a stagecoach had swept by as we made our way - on an atmospheric dark, very wet and windy night - to The Spread Eagle for dinner.

Recently refurbished and transformed into a fine dining restaurant with a modern French menu, this former coaching inn has been a restaurant since the 18th century. As we entered through the charming Georgian frontage and into the bar , we half expected to find it full of jolly men with clay pipes and three cornered hats!

The candle lit restaurant areas, beyond the bar, can seat up to 110 , but the spaces remain intimate and cosily elegant, with panelled walls, corniced ceilings, oak floors and stylish period dining room chairs. The walls are crowded with the owner's extensive art collection featuring works with a Greenwich connection, including paintings by Gainsborough, David Wilkie and Jack Yates.

A rather smart village inn may describe the ambience, but the food is certainly more urbane. A two course (£27) and a three course (£31) menu are on offer with a choice of seven starters and seven mains, and side orders - Dauphinois potatoes and French beans on this occasion - are an additional £3.00.  A glass of the richly characterful house champagne (£8) –Jean Paul Deville Carte Noire N.V - accompanied our browse through the nicely balanced menu.

I chose the monkfish beignets with avocado mousseline and squid gratin to start, and my partner, the pan fried foie gras with poppy seed and quince puree. Alternatives included seared blue fin tuna, scallops, escargot ravioli and a tomato and cheese tart for the vegetarians. The monkish was magically fresh with a fine crisp outer layer and the avocado was a great counterpoint. The squid too was perfectly cooked but its delicate flavour was in danger of being overwhelmed by its covering of tomato. And one more beignet would have been nice! The foie gras scored highly. Difficult to get ‘just right’ it was judged a triumph, and the quince puree was a clever contrast.

The charming, and highly experienced, French/Vietnamese restaurant manager Vichy ( ex Lindsay House, Quo Vadis, Oxo Tower and Sketch) guided us with our ‘wine by the glass’ choices: a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2005 for the monkfish – delicious and appley (£7.80 per glass); a great wine. Then an ‘inspired choice’ for the foie gras, from the sweet wines selection – a rich, slightly smoky Coteaux du Layon Saint-Lambert, Domaine Ogereau 2005 from the Loire.(£5.50).

Glazed Alaskan cod with sautéed pak choy and papaya was my choice of main course, and my companion – gently pushed by Vichy – was very happy to try the roasted lobster with rosemary, red pepper velouté , asparagus and purple potato.

We both added side dishes – Dauphinois potatoes and French beans – and again chose wines by the glass. This time it was a very refined Chablis, Gerard Tremblay 2005 (£7.10) with the cod, and a Pinot Grigio Trefili, Veneto 2005 ( £4.90) with the lobster. The first was clean and crisp but maybe too elegant for the cod and the Pinot Grigio proved a little characterless when up against the rich lobster. Both dishes were superb and scored ten out of ten for presentation before we took a bite. The cod portion was huge, straight-from-the-sea fresh, flaky and with its delicate but rustic sweet glaze; a delight in the mouth.

‘ A very well conceived plate’ was my companion's verdict on the lobster. Again, a generous portion, smooth and flavourful, being subtly infused by the rosemary; well worth the £5 supplement. Both dishes had great poise and a slightly robust charm - very much in sympathy with their Greenwich maritime surroundings. Other main course choices were pan fried skate, corn fed chicken, rump of lamb, seared fillet of beef and herb ravioli.

Sad to say, the mundane puddings were a bit of a disappointment after the delights of everything else. Maybe the high profile that puddings have acquired in recent years made The Spread Eagle’s offer seem dull. My companion's ‘Chocolate cake and choc pot’ was deemed undistinguished, and my ‘Crème brulee tasting’ - two pots, one vanilla, one orange - had perfect texture , but the slivers of peel had failed to infuse the crème – so it was two helpings of vanilla! Perhaps the French apple tart and strawberry and raspberry millefeuille would have been better choices.

That said, The Spread Eagle has created an ambience and food worthy of its long history, and both Frank Dowling, the owner, and head chef ,Youcef Kaidi, are to be congratulated.

The Spread Eagle, 1-2 Stockwell Street, Greenwich SE10 9JB. Tel 020 8853 2333
Lunch 12-3 pm seven days a week. Dinner 6-11 pm seven days per week. 
Private dining is available for 12 or 14 in two rooms

Stephen Higginson, March 2007

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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