Girls’ Lunch at All Bar One:
Back in time women didn’t go into pubs or bars by themselves or even with other women. You’d take a man with you, especially in the evening. When All Bar One opened their first branch in 1994, the idea of women friendly bars was quite new and I can remember many an office outing to our local All Bar One (I worked in a female dominated marketing department at the time). Thirty years on, things have changed and that constraint has vanished- so I was curious to go along and see how one of my favourite meeting places for a Girls’ Night Out has kept up with the times.
All Bar One in Victoria is conveniently located, just far enough from the Station to not feel like a Railway Bar, it’s a stone’s throw from Westminster Cathedral. Right now the whole area is a bit of a building site and it’s obvious that particularly the outside patio of the bar will be a lot nicer once the work is finished, although on a sunny day it’s still a very popular refuge!
Inside it is thoughtfully laid out and pleasantly decorated. There’s absolutely nothing questionable, from the Farrow and Ball colours on the walls through to the kitch lighting and comfy seating. There are communal benches and bar stools and more private tables for dining. Upstairs has a slightly more relaxed feel than the ground floor which I can imagine gets very busy after office hours.
Perfect for meeting girlfriends, I took along two of mine who go back almost as long as All Bar One to sample some of the food. And the cocktails/mocktails too.
Our terrible trio was mostly non-alcoholic – I was the only sinner in the group picking the Bloomsbury Bouquet. But, having sampled the Elderflower Fizz and Peach Melba mocktails ordered by my companions I honestly would have been quite happy with one of the mocktails. None of our drinks were over-sweetened, and each one had a fresh fragrance.
On to the food – the menu has a mixture of regular starters and mains and a good selection of sharing ‘Tapas’ style dishes, with a whole range of Spanish and other dishes in small sharing portions In the interests of trying lots of dishes we went for a selection of ‘Tapas’ and started with Salmon Ceviche.
Beautifully presented, nicely citrussy and refreshing there was nothing to fault in this dish at £6.50
Next up, mini thai crabcakes with a lime yoghurt dip. All Bar One have put a calorie count on dishes that they obviously consider to be low calorie options – these crabcakes are 236 calories while the ceviche comes in at 240.
Beef meatballs with a romanesco sauce were deliciously tender and very morish. Scarily, this dish DIDN’T have the calories, so I can only imagine…
Tempura prawns were lovely, but for me perhaps the only dish that didn’t quite work as anticipated. The batter was just a little heavier than I’d have expected, although they were still delicious.
And the garlic mushrooms with lavash bread at £5.00 were mouthwatering and beautifully buttery. On first glance I wasn’t sure if the lavash bread would be a good accompaniment, but actually it probably saved the dish from being overly calorific (it’s actually 270 calories) and the charcoal taste really complemented the earthy mushrooms.
All in, a good range of food and plenty for three people, although we did end up ordering desserts (2 between 3) too in the interests of the review, of course.
The churros with chocolate sauce were sugary crisp morsels and the chocolate sauce was rich and dark (and served in a VERY covetable little pan).
I was gutted that I couldn’t try the Eton mess – one of my favourite dessert, this looked superb.
Both desserts were generously portioned – and although I hate to say it, plenty big enough to share!
My view on chain restaurants remains the same. I believe they have a very important role to play in the ‘dining out’ scene. While you may not get an overwhelming food-tasting experience there are times when your focus should be on the company you are with rather than on the food on your plate. And, a good chain restaurant can make dishes from excellent quality ingredients with a lower cost base, so you should find your wallet is a little more comfortable at the end of the meal. If what you are looking for is comfort and conviviality rather than revolutionary food, then why not?
In the case of All Bar One, this particular branch is offering excellent quality food for a very reasonable price. You could enjoy a meal like ours with four tapas plates and a bottle of wine between two on a Tuesday for a total of £20. That has to be a bargain.
All Bar One Victoria
Retail Unit 1,
58 Victoria St,
London, SW1E 6AJ