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A Grelha At The Gun, Al fresco bar and restaurant

A Grelha at the Gun, West India Dock
27 Coldharbour, Docklands,
E14 9NS.
0207 515 5222

Eating outside has always been a dodgy option in the UK. We’ve all tried it on holiday and got a taste for it, but like the wine at those sun soaked al fresco meals, it doesn’t seem to travel well back home.

But over the last few years, with the onset of warmer summers and the emergence of gas powered ‘patio heaters’, more and more restaurants have opened their gardens and courtyards in the summer months, and have even installed roll-back roofs for those balmy evenings we all dream of. Being extensions of the restaurant, these open-air spaces serve the same food outside, as they do inside. But not A Grelha (the grill), at The Gun.

Owned by Tom and Ed Martin, The Gun has already made a hot name for itself as a stylish gastro pub in Docklands, adjacent to West India Dock, and right on the river. Now the duo have created an alfresco restaurant and bar. Next to, but separate from, The Gun, with a distinct southern Portuguese barbecue menu, it is born from the owners love of this style of cooking, resulting from their annual visits to the Algarve since childhood.

The sunny south facing space is dramatic, with wide skies and thrilling views across the river to the O2 Dome. A Grelha is understandably only open ‘weather permitting’, so if you are not sure, a call is essential to see if your idea of barbecue weather is shared by the restaurant!

The night I went was almost cloudless, but with a bit of a cool breeze, made bearable, by the heaters and the evening sun. So much so, that many of the clientele - mostly Canary Wharf banking types - were happy in their shirt sleeves!

Food served outdoors cannot be too effete, but needs to have a strong character and be rustic in flavour and texture, and this is exactly what A Grelha serves. Just walking towards this place puts you in a holiday mood, as the evocative smell of a serious barbeque wafts along the cobbled street ; you are already in the Algarve before you set foot in this stylish sun-trap!

The secret of barbeque is top class ingredients, and A Grelha does not disappoint . All the fish – a speciality here -is sparkling fresh from nearby Billingsgate fish market and is sold by weight. You choose your own from the ice encrusted shiny display which includes whole seabass, dourade, red snapper and the essential Portuguese sardines. On the menu too is Cataplana – a fish and shell fish stew, served in a copper pot, and traditional Algarvian seafood rice. The meat here is also of fine quality – and includes such classics as chicken Piri Piri and, skewers of lamb Espetada..

All mains are served with ample portions of new potatoes dressed in garlic and olive oil and a pleasantly subtle tomato, onion, green pepper, oregano and mixed leaf salad –which could have been bigger to counterbalance the generously sized main dishes .

To start, I chose that spicy Iberian sausage – Chorizo – brought to the table flaming in Medronho and my companion went totally native with salt cod croquettes with aioli. The former pleasantly smoky and spicy, the latter – essentially mini fish cakes – had a creamy inside with a crisp outer coat, and not at all over salty as you might expect, with the aioli providing a perfect counterpoint. Baby squid, king prawns, mussels and clams were the alternatives.

A main course dourade – a gilt head bream – from the whole fish selection, was cooked simply on the grill - fresh, succulent, mouthwatering; what more can one say!.The traditional chicken piri piri came served with chips rather than the new potatoes provided with my fish - which incidentally were rather too al dente for my taste. The chicken was aromatically spiced and ‘juicy’ – and the eight large pieces quite a challenge to consume! To drink we kept it ‘local’ with a wonderfully scented ‘Stella Blanco’ dry Muscat, Terras Do Saldo 2005 – flowery, rich and infused with the fragrances of Portuguese summer meadows. A bargain at £15.

In theory, A Grelha offers the kind of food that can hardly go wrong - grilled fish and meat with potatoes and a salad - but if you add in the great riverside location, the familiar Mediterranean barbeque but with its delightful touch of the Algarve, and above all, top quality ingredients – which includes the serving staff! – then you have a winning formula. It is a ‘must- go’ location for both lunch and dinner on warm summer days – which can only get warmer and more frequent with global warming. Thus I see a great future for A Grelha. Meanwhile, take a pullover – this IS England after all.

Starters range from £6 - £9..95 ( for the King Prawns) and the meat main courses are a £12.50 - £12.95. Most of the fish, remember, is sold by weight – averaging £3.50 per 100 grammes, but the Portuguese specials – Cataplana , Seafood Rice and Fish Espetada are £15, or £28 for two.

A Grelha is open – weather permitting – from 12 noon -3 pm and 6pm -10pm Monday to Saturday, and from 12 noon -4pm and 6pm – 9.30 pm on Sunday. It is also a bar and is open for drinks all week from 11 am to 11 pm.

A Grelha at the Gun, 27 Coldharbour, Docklands, London E14 9NS. 0207 515 5222

Stephen Higginson, July 2007

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

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