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Farm Girl Caf, Chelsea: We don’t stay for dessert, because we have suffered enough restaurant review | Jay Rayner

The food was so bad, says Jay Rayner, a nearby Yorkshire terrier started to look more appetising

Farm Girl Cafe, 9 Park Walk, London SW1 0 0AJ( 020 3674 7359 ). Meal for two, including liquors and service PS110

The menu at the Farm Girl Cafe features lots of initials. There’s V for Vegan. There’s GF for Gluten Free. There’s DF for Dairy Free. I think they’re missing a few. There should be TF for Taste Free and JF for Joy Free and AAHYWEH for Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. If you examine the company’s website, and I would only advise doing so if you have strong teeth that they are able cope with a good grind, you will learn that the Farm Girl group offers:” A holistic and healthy yet comfortingly simple approach to Australian Cafe culture .” Nope, me neither. Apparently, they like to use” nutritionally nurturing ingredients”, which sounds rather nice. I could have done with a little bit of fostering, rather than the dishes that came our way.

I have nothing against eating healthily. I have only one body and I try to look after it. My mom used to say that she hoped to die aged 98, shot dead by a jealous buff. She didn’t quite manage it, but it’s an ambition I’m happy to inherit. The menu here is omnivorous with a heavy emphasis on non-meat cookery, which is a fine thing. I like vegetables, me. They can taste really nice. But this sort of cook does have to be done with skill, grace and, ideally, an absence of malice.

The Farm Girl Cafe, Chelsea, is the third in a group which until now has stuck to charcoal or matcha lattes, and light lunches involving an nasty lot of almond butter, avocado and something called coconut bacon, which you just know isn’t. This is the first to serve dinner, and it does indeed look like a proper eatery in a very Chelsea sort of way. There’s a giant blue Welsh dresser behind the bar, faux wooden beams across the ceiling and banquettes in a field tint of green. It’s like a cartoon version of a farmhouse as imagined by someone who hasn’t been in one.

It fills promptly on a cold winter’s evening, with blonde-tressed Chelsea women just bubbling with intolerances. They are fizzing with them, these dairy- and gluten-fearing dietary warriors, trying sanctuary from the terrifying world of modern meat. With them are their pink-cheeked, anxious-looking boyfriends, who clearly panic they are just one more rugby club, traffic-cone-on-your-head piss-up away from being chucked. A lady arrives clutching her Yorkshire terrier. They are given a corner table. The dog is offered a bowl of sea and a plate of food and disappears on to the flooring for dinner. At least person gets to eat well.

artichoke
‘ The artichoke is just so much mushy leaf affair, and odors of a long Sunday afternoon in someone’s overheated suburban front room .’ Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

From the small plates we order the whole( wholly out-of-season) globe artichoke, which apparently is gluten free. It’s tough to see how it would be anything other. It has been prepared by someone who either hates globe artichokes or has never gratified one before: simmered until it is as soft and rank as Grandma’s cabbage, merely with none of the glamour. It is just so much mushy leaf thing, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someone’s overheated suburban front room. The damn thing could be disposed of without the assistance of teeth or, better still, employing a composter. That would remove the middle human, which in this case happen to be me.

” Paola’s Market Veggies” arrive in a bowl, with a grainy, deathly” carrot hummus” thickly smeared up the side, like someone had an intimate collision and decided to close the loo doorway and run away. At the bottom is a” cashew aioli”, which is the kind of discharge you get when you torture nuts. It savours of raw garlic and nothing else. There are sticks of celery and hunks of cauliflower to dredge through this, alongside” seeded crisp bread” which is neither of the last two terms. It is dense and hard and tasteless, as you imagine cork floor tiling might be, if it had somehow been repurposed as food.

Finally, from the small plates, comes tostadas piled with jackfruit, the latest hip, unconvincing replacement for meat. It is a fibrous tangle that get stuck in your teeth on top of a violent, acidic gunk of guacamole. The jackfruit is described as being barbecued. This intends it has been smeared with a blunt barbecue sauce of the kind they serve at pub with a flat roof. Each of these bowls expenses about PS8. After this vegan tragedy, this extraordinary showing of dismal cooking, I find myself eyeing the Yorkshire terrier, greedily. Just hand him over, give me access to the grill, and five minutes.

turkey
‘ The turkey schnitzel has the texture of something Timpson’s might one day think about employing to re-sole my brogues .’ Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

Perhaps the kitchen can do better with something that once had a heartbeat. Or perhaps not. The crispy turkey schnitzel sounds nice. Apparently, it is encased in” lemon and thyme-infused breadcrumbs”, but savours of neither of those things. It scarcely savours of anything at all. The meat is overcooked and has the texture of something Timpson’s might one day think about using to re-sole my brogues. A heap of pickled cucumber and radish is piled on top helpfully, to ensure the breadcrumbs go soggy. A side bowl of roasted cauliflower is so undercooked that the bayonet scarcely manages to go through it. The one edible dish is a glutinous, cloyingly sweet vegetable “curry”. It would be regarded as an utter, disgraceful travesty by many in south-east Asia, but it’s not actively unpleasant.

We do not stay for dessert, because we have suffered enough. In any case they are mostly a list of ice creams and sorbets including a” spinach, kiwi and coconut petroleum gelato”, which voices terrifying. What we’ve ordered so far, plus the second-cheapest bottle of wine, has already run up a bill of simply under PS100. It’s not just the dismal cook that soreness me here. It’s the squandering of ingredients and of people’s time and the tiresome narrative of “wellness” with which it’s been flogged. I seem specially bad about our waiter. Tom is a good man. He is charming, on level and utterly wasted here; he should do something more socially useful, like fly tipping or nicking cars. I whip out my phone and discover there is a limb of Honest Burger nearby. One of their finest, served medium rare, a big heap of rosemary and salt microchips and a hefty tumbler of inexpensive and cheerful sauvignon blanc is exactly what we need to make all those BTGW( Bad Thoughts Go Away ).

News bites

The elegant glass container that houses the coffeehouse at the Garden Museum, just south of Lambeth Bridge, commits equal billing to both meat and veg, but does so with grace and good taste. A recent menu started with winter tomatoes with tropea onions, or cockles with bacon, must be accompanied by gnocchi with wild garlic and almonds or oxtail and lentils. Stay for dessert( gardenmuseum.org.uk ).

There’s nothing clever about stupid high prices for food items, but it’s always good to have something to gawp at. Lately, on a trip round the refurbished Harrods food hall, I spotted Wagyu Kobe fillet A5, imported from Japan, for PS62. 50 per 100 g. Or PS625 a kilo. The minimum ordering is 500g. You do the maths.

Restaurant no-shows have become a serious issue in the industry recently. Two weeks ago, Edinburgh chef Mark Greenaway introduced a deposit strategy after recording 450 no-shows in a month. Now the Casual Dining Group, which own brands such as Bella Italia and La Tasca, is considering introducing advance payments for big groups.

Email Jay at jay.rayner @observer. co.uk or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ lifeandstyle/ 2018/ mar/ 11/ farm-girl-cafe-chelsea-we-dont-stay-for-dessert-because-we-have-suffered-enough-restaurant-review