With its prime location on the increasingly hip and happening Bermondsey Street, The Garrison’s reputation precedes it. Booking is essential, and when you’re phoning to request a table the 2 hour turnaround time is strongly emphasised, which can feel slightly off-putting. Don’t be deterred though, as The Garrison is well worth a visit. The décor is all rustic chic, with natural wood tables and farmhouse type ornaments adorning the untreated brick walls and the atmosphere was buzzing when my dining partner and I joined a group of friends for dinner one Saturday evening.
Our waiter, a flamboyantly camp character with an incredible handlebar moustache, bounded over to take our drinks order and left us with a huge pile of doorstop-thick slices of brilliantly fresh wholemeal bread to tear and share as we perused the gastropub style, modern British menu. We weren’t quite hungry enough for three courses, so we dove straight in to the mains. My pan roasted haddock fillet with ratatouille and a balsamic glaze was a brilliant combination of flavours, the soft, flaky fish tasted like a day at the seaside and was accented beautifully by the tangy Mediterranean vegetables in the ratatouille, with the balsamic glaze giving the dish a contrasting touch of sweetness. I was disappointed that the skin of the haddock wasn’t even slightly crisped – I ended up scraping it away and leaving it at the side of my plate – and I could have done with a bit more ratatouille, but as a whole the dish worked well. A side dish of gratin dauphinois was a piece of pure potato heaven – thinly sliced spuds enveloped in a deliciously creamy sauce, with just a hint of garlic and a perfectly browned melted gruyere topping. Our party had ordered a couple of these to share and we were slightly perturbed when we were first presented with one dauphinois and one bowl of roasted baby Jersey Royals. With brilliant dramatic flair, our waiter apologised for the mix-up and dashed back to the kitchen to organise another dish of dauphinois for us. To his credit, this arrived within minutes so we still had plenty left of our mains for it to accompany. Other mains at the table included such delights as bavette steak with handcut chips, and Aberdeen lamb chops with a redcurrant mint jelly, and all were well received by our party. Only the roast duck breast (a special of the day, served with root vegetables and a green peppercorn jus) drew any criticism, as it was just slightly overcooked and the portion could have been a bit more generous.
Looking at the dessert menu, we were glad we had saved space for sweets. My dessert was the last to arrive at the table, and with members of our party swooning over giant piles of Eton Mess, and savouring rich chocolate brownie with pistachio ice cream, I was slightly anxious in case my own choice of gingerbread, ginger ice cream and butterscotch sauce didn’t match up. I needn’t have worried, as it turned out to be one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time. The gingerbread was delicately flavoured and had the perfect consistency, soft and light but with just a hint of resistance as I sank my spoon in. The ginger ice cream had a wonderfully spicy kick to it but its rich creamy texture kept it from being overpowering, and the butterscotch sauce was simply divine – thick and smooth but peppered with crystallised sugar whose granular texture was brilliantly teasing on the tongue and whose intense sweetness brought the whole dish together.
The wine list offers a wide selection of reds and whites with a fair few by the glass. At our table, we enjoyed a bottle of Domaine La Croix Gratiot Picpoul de Pinet (£27), which was a smooth, refined white with a minerally freshness that made it a great accompaniment to the meal. At around £40 per head for two courses with wine and service, The Garrison isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t feel unfair given the quality of the food.
With a full restaurant, and a waiter who clearly enjoyed having a good old chinwag with his guests, the advertised two hour turnaround time proved not to be so strictly enforced in practice, and we settled our bill around half an hour late but amid much hilarity with our new moustachioed friend. Whilst that was great for us, I can’t help but think that other diners might have been put off by our waiter’s exuberance. I also have to wonder how the diners who had booked to eat after us reacted to having to wait at the bar for half an hour before they could be seated, something that has to weigh in to the overall score in this restaurant review. Taking all that into consideration, we still think The Garrison merits a solid three Forks Up.The Garrison 99 – 101 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3XB 020 7089 0355 www.thegarrison.co.uk