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
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
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
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