Alfie's by KEE

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There are few fashion brands I feel a genuine affinity for, but Dunhill is one of them. So much so in fact that I actually started to find Jude Law less objectionable when he became the face of Dunhill in a bizarre reversal of how celebrity endorsements are supposed to work.

I’ve also got a soft spot for KEE (for the goose and the club), so the combination of the two in Dunhill’s new flagship store should have been a marriage made in heaven. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The space was a little smaller and more exposed than we’d expected, with the admittedly snazzy stairway to the upper and lower floors of the store visible from within, and large windows looking out across the busy junction below. Still, the leather-dominated fixtures and fittings were suitably elegant and inviting, and the fine leather menu covers a nice touch. Unfortunately, what was inside was a little less urbane.

Now we’re all for gastro-pub cuisine, but this menu relied far too much on the obvious. The main courses were a case in point: pan-fried salmon, fish and chips, bangers and mash, roast chicken, filet steak and cottage pie are hardly likely to set one’s imagination alight. (The saffron-poached smoked haddock sounded more intriguing, but since they’d run out of it – at 7.30pm on a Tuesday – we didn’t get to find out). Sure these are British staples, but – as The Pawn and countless London gastropubs have demonstrated – there’s room for innovation too. And given the sleekness of the décor, the menu seemed a tad incongruous.

The starters too – including pork sausage roll, smoked salmon and prawn cocktail – were also (perhaps unashamedly) predictable. I went for the broccoli soup ($95) which came accompanied by a spoonful of crab and potato salad dressed with lemon juice, crème fraiche and caviar. It was a reasonable winter warmer, the crab and potato salad a refreshing and zesty counterpoint to the smooth and subtle broth. The H. Forman & Son’s smoked mackerel salad ($120) with capers, cornichons and grated egg, meanwhile, was a good enough rendition, with good-quality fish, but hardly knocked our socks off.

Thankfully the mains cranked things up a notch. The pan-fried Red Label Scottish salmon ($225) with lentils, pickled fennel, salmon roe and sour cream had a perfect light crisp to the outside, the flesh moist, succulent and full of flavour within. Even better was the char-grilled prime Angus filet steak ($290), which was so perfectly medium-rare we could have sworn it was cooked sous vide (they insisted grill). Served with wonderfully crunchy fat chips and a malt vinegar béarnaise that actually complemented rather than overpowered the robust taste of the meat, it’s certainly one of the better steaks we’ve had this year.

We had no complaints either with the True Brit desserts of Eton Mess ($78) with fresh strawberries and Berry’s Amontillado Estilo sherry trifle ($88) with seasonal berries.

The service, however, while friendly and with its heart firmly in the right place, left a lot to be desired. Despite the fact we took an age to order while chewing the fat (metaphorically), bread wasn’t brought until after our starters had reached the table. And while our starters arrived just a few minutes after ordering, our mains didn’t materialise until a full 30 minutes later, even though we were one of only two occupied tables. “They need a little work on the pacing,” said my companion redundantly as I jumped at every swing of the kitchen door, like a stood-up teenager on a first date.

On one hand, we sympathised: the place had only been open a couple of weeks and it was a public holiday. On the other hand, would the average customer be so forgiving on a $1,000 bill, regardless of the opening date? Either way, we’re fairly confident they’ll sort it out given time.

Alfie’s also serves breakfast from 7.30am-10am daily (except Sundays and public holidays) including a Full English with West Country style pork sausage and – lo and behold – black pudding for $138. This might be a better option for sampling Alfie’s for the time being, until the menu and service find their groove.

Paul Kay

M18-19, Prince’s Bldg, 10 Chater Rd, Central, 2530 4422. Daily noon-2.30pm and 7pm-10pm, Mon-Sat 7.30am-10am.

4 Comments Add your comment

  • I don’t want nouveau Brit cuisine. I like my bangers and mash, Scottish eggs & roast chicken. Most of the time chefs get too creative and makes fussy fushion stuff. No, this is much, much better. Thank god Alfies doesn’t mess with the original recipes. We don’t have enough pure British restaurants committed to doing fine English cooking.

    Posted by MD on April 14, 2010 at 10:40 AM
  • By far the best thing about Alfie's is its breakfast - truly authentically English and reasonably priced. The menu served during the rest of the day, while being as close to authentically British gastro-pub cuisine as you could expect, seem to have some things missing here and there. Just a tad off in many places. The basic pub grub are way over-priced, portions are hardly generous, with too much 'polishing up' here and there. Pub grub should just be pub grub. There's definitely room for innovation and the creation of dishes in addtion to the basic British staples and perhaps those items could be higher priced. But be reasonable when pricing the basic pub grub offerings, enlarge the portions and strive to be even more authentic.

    Posted by IBanker on April 16, 2010 at 10:04 AM
  • Lovely food, smilely service, great location. Love that they do breakfast here. The only place i can think of that goes from breakfast spot, to power lunches to happy hour to night club.

    Posted by Al Wong on April 22, 2010 at 09:56 AM
  • I pretty much had the same experience here. The food was just ok, but certainly not worth the price. The major let down was service though - i expect a place like this to be sharp - just like those Dunhill suits - and considering that they were doing "trials" for about a month before opening to public, im pretty surprised. Summary - interiors are good, food is average, and service definitely not as suave as one would expect.

    Posted by ilovecc on April 22, 2010 at 11:45 AM

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