Restaurant Review: The Hoxton Apprentice, London

Had a lovely evening at The Hoxton Apprentice restaurant last night with four of my girlfriends – we try and meet once a month for dinner and it was my turn to choose. As the others were booked in to tour Dennis Severs’ House before dinner (I didn’t fancy it) I wanted to find something reasonably close by.

The Hoxton Apprentice is a charitable community project and exists to provide life training for the long term unexployed of the area. The idea is to provide vocational skills not just to chefs (as in Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen) but also to front-of-house staff such as waiters, cocktail bar staff, manager training etc.

The menu is fairly straightforward and the prices are reasonably low for this kind of fare in this area. Of course, that’s because you may encounter some problems in food and service from the trainees.

The restaurant itself is in a lovely building with really high ceilings, painted brick walls, old style radiatiors and lovely furniture/ decor. I think the building used to be a school and most of it still is an educational building.

Our waiter was extremely friendly though he did make a lot of errors. Having very slowly written down our order we asked him to repeat it back as we had a feeling he may have miswritten it. He had made a few mistakes plus missed out a dish but eventually we were happy that he had all 5 starters and all 5 mains.

4 of us went for the same main dish, Venison with savoy cabbage. As it didn’t list any other vegetable we ordered some side dishes of mash potato.

A while later our waiter came over and said that the dish came with mash potato and did we still want the extra side orders. We said, no, if that was the case, we didn’t. He looked a bit lost and said that he’d already put them through now but we (very politely) asked for them to be removed as we’d ordered them only because of the incomplete menu descriptions.

That was fine.

Starters arrived and mine was missing. I eventually was able to call him over to ask where it was and he went to the kitchen to check. In the meantime one of the girls who’d ordered the same thing (a risotto) split hers into two portions (it was a huge serving) and gave half to me. By the time he came back he explained he’d managed not to put one of the orders into the system. It would be quite a while before they could cook another one so I decided to leave it and he went back to update the order as he’d just corrected it!

Oh, before the soups for the others came out the soup eaters were asked if they wanted some bread with it. Although they took their time eating the soups the bread came out a long time after they had finished eating them! Oh well! They were lovely breads served with some olive oil and roasted garlic.

Our waiter was hugely apologetic and as we knew he was a trainee and was a warm individual clearly doing his best we did tell him not to worry about it at all. As far as we were concerned, this is the point of this place – to support the training of those who might not normally have this opportunity.

The butternut squash soup was delicious and so too was the red wine and mushroom risotto.

Mains were lovely (though one of the girls asked for a really overcooked portion against the three of us asking for pink). Despite asking as they were served, they were served the wrong way round. The other dish was a generous sausage and mash.

Once we’d swapped the venisons around we all really enjoyed the meals. Very well cooked, flavoursome, good quality ingredients.

For dessert we had two lemon rice puddings, one chocolate mousse with sea salt caramel ice cream and one grilled pineapple with rosemary sorbet.

The rice puddings were delicious, though huge portions and not very lemony at all. Very moreish though! The pineapple and sorbet were nice too. I’d ordered the chocolate mousse mainly for the sea salt caramel ice cream after checking that it was available (he’d told us the other ice creams on the menu weren’t available) and was disappointed to find out only on being served that the ice cream had been replaced with coffee ice cream instead – had I known that I’d have ordered something else and just as well I’m not allergic to coffee. Somewhere else I might have sent it back but I decided not to here as I knew our waiter was nervous after the previous errors and keen to get everything else right.

When our bill came it had a number of mistakes on it. A single glass of wine (ordered and served correctly) was listed as a full bottle on the bill. And we had 6 mains of Venison plus the sausage and mash dish though there were only five of us! After getting that corrected we all put our cards in to pay an even split of the bill.

I very nearly paid 10 times as much as I should have when the waiter miskeyed the amount but he was able to void that transaction before it went through. Lucky I noticed though!

As we hadn’t been drinking (the glass of wine was literally the only alcohol ordered) the bill was very reasonable at 22.50 per person including the service.

Despite the problems with errors in orders and the like we all said we’d consider returning to this restaurant as we did like the ambience, the decor, the friendlines and warmth of the service, the food and the concept itself.

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