Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be a good watch. Crazy people running restaurants badly is a funny idea. Unfortunately, after the first three episodes, it became clear that the show’s approach was a formulaic as its presenter’s angry shtick. These days, Gordon needs only to walk into a restaurant for us to know that the following is wrong with it: bad management, terrible decor and a messy, over-complicated menu. His ‘advice’ can usually be boiled down to three words: keep it simple.
Mem & Laz is not a kitchen nightmare. It’s a busy and economical option in an area not known for its bargains. But it could learn something from everyone’s favourite Scottish swearbag. The menu needs to be much shorter and far simpler. Looking again on the website, I count 88 dishes on the main menu (including desserts but not including side dishes). There was also a separate specials list of about 8 the night we visited. That’s a whole lot of dishes, even for a restaurant that bills itself with the rather unspecific ‘Mediterranean’ label.
There were only two of us, so this review only covers about 4 per cent of the available menu. Sorry about that.
My starter was a special seafood salad at £4.95. It had some octopus and small prawns in it, as well lots of slighty unpleasant lemony vinegar to dress, and assorted leaves and salady bits, none of which were particularly inspiring. It was ok. On the plus side, it was enormous – easily big enough for a main dish.
On the other side of the table was the ‘Deep fried trio of cheeses’ with cranberry sauce and mixed leaves. The camembert was rich and interesting, unlike the brie and mozzarella, which were flavourless and rubbery. The cranberry sauce was sweet and red, which is something. The mixed leaves were mixed and leafy. Again though, if assessed purely by weight, this was a good deal.
Mains were large too. I had pan-fried chicken livers with bacon, spinach and red onion salad. I hate to think how many chickens died in the making of this dish, but I’d guess at 20 or so. To be fair, the livers were nicely cooked, if a bit lacking in flavour. The raw red onion that turned up in every mouthful rather overpowered everything else, I’m afraid, even the gigantic bits of bacon.
Chargrilled lamb chops with red wine sauce, potato and Mediterranean vegetables came recommended by the efficient and friendly waiter. They were probably the best things we ate – generously portioned, quite well cooked (but quite well-cooked as well, if you know what I mean) and with a gloopy red wine sauce that looked like bisto but tasted better.
All this was accompanied be a really very good bottle of Tempranillo. At £11.95, this was my favourite discovery of the meal.
Mem & Laz is essentially a restaurant for students. The portions are truly mind-boggling, the food is inoffensive, and the location and atmosphere are pretty good. We spent £41 pounds between us on more food than we could possibly eat and a bottle of very decent wine. That’s pretty unusual in this, or any other part of town. What’s more, with the largest menu I think I’ve ever seen, you’re almost bound to find something you can eat.
Phil Lett’s take: 5/10