Just one day after opening there was such a throng at the bar that I couldn't spot my date. I asked the greeter if she had noticed where he was standing, at which she calmly consulted her notes and said, "he's wearing a checked suit." I tried to explain hoity-toitily, that it wasn't actually a blind date, but dating does seem to be very much a theme in the new restaurant, with couples from various decades pictured on the backs of the menus, colourful paintings depicting a Coney Island social melee on the walls, and so many fresh-faced whippersnappers filling the bar with sexual promise that you wouldn't be in the least surprised to find them bursting into song, and swinging each other around lampposts.
Bank is an appropriately named haunt, it being built in a former bank and with large glass windows giving onto the lights and traffic of Aldwych. This is one of the more atmospheric areas of London, close to ancient law courts and former newspaper offices, and putting one in mind of Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke's cockney accent and other aspects of our rich heritage.
Perfectly placed to mop up both the City and theatre crowds, with a Michelin- star-winning chef, a former manager of Quaglino's in charge, and the man who designed Kensington Place and Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor masterminding the look, it's not surprising that Bank should seem firmly en route for success.
It's the latest in what is becoming a new restaurant type. Like Fifth Floor, like Mezzo, like the Oxo Tower, Bank caters for young professional singletons in search of a sense of occasion, lots of other people, wooden floors, things in stainless steel, cherry red and bright blue, and a menu which includes the words "root vegetable", "rocket", "ricotta", "parfait", and "cabbage".
You enter into a large open bar space, and approach the even larger restaurant via a corridor alongside the open kitchen which, my date claimed wildly, contains the longest piece of kitchen equipment in the world. Bank's idiosyncratic feature is a dramatic ceiling construction of thousands of vertical sheets of glass, making you think of the bottom of a fish and hope they're not expecting earthquakes.
No sooner had we sat down than my date was greeted by three witches with swingy hair, pretty faces, lip-liner and gigantic breasts bursting from Lycra whom he claimed, equally unconvincingly, he knew "from the gym". Even the wine list seemed to have ghastly gym-girls on the brain, dividing the wines up into taste types such as medium supple, full firm or round smooth. Humph. It was a good shortish list, not overpriced with four or five decent wines at pounds 10.50. The food menu, in contrast, offered a bewildering number of subsections: starters, pasta and risotto, fish, meat, vegetarian, and salads as well as crustacean, and two kinds of breakfast. Prices are standard posh London - though, pounds 14.50 for fish and chips is a nerve. A set menu comes at pounds 12.90 for two courses and pounds 16.50 for three.
Our starters suggested the food might turn out to be rather good: not always the case in newly opened trendy places. I kicked off with salad of rocket, roasted tomato and Parmesan. You would think there was nothing you could do wrong with such a dish, but I once ordered it in a Docklands restaurant where, I swear to God, the "mozzarella" was Kraft-cheese slices. This, however, was perfect. My companion's seared rare tuna, tomato and ginger was top-notch, extremely tender and pink in the middle.
We were pleased to note that, though this was only day one, the service seemed to be more than up to scratch - apart from 1) a slight tardiness with the wine, 2) the very annoying control-freak trick of putting the wine in a bucket just out of reach, 3) the fact that our waiter wildly oversold the pommes frites claiming they were huge fat chips ("really English chips, you know, chunky really solid") then presenting us with fries so thin and yellow as to be practically McDonalds. Beans too had been oversold by the menu. "French beans, shallots, Parmesan," turned out to be overcooked stringy things with bits in.
My pheasant with prunes and creamed cabbage, however, was unusually moist and tender for a pheasant, almost as if it had been kept on a Scottish estate and allowed to loll around on the corgis' cushions while watching Sky TV all day. The creamed cabbage and prunes accompaniment was lovely; really tasty. My companion's (pounds 19.50) whole grilled Dover sole was superb; which, let's face it, it bloody well ought to be at pounds 19.50. You might think you can't go wrong with Dover Sole but it's a bit like a string bean in this respect, and could easily be dry and curling, soggily overcooked, or swamped with bits of things. This sole, bearing witness to the fact that Bank's financier is one of the capital's main fish suppliers, was firm, tasty, fresh and fluffy in a thin dainty kind of way - all pounds 19.50's worth of it.
What a shame that the puddings should let themselves down. Rhubarb and orange sable tasted, as my date put it "like an overdone cheesecake with an orange mash-up," and was overdecorated with what looked like plastic shredding. My banana creme brulee tasted too sweet, like desserts that come out of packets.
Overall we liked our dinner, it was not Michelin-star haute cuisine, but tasty, eclectically modern food. Our bill with a pounds 23 bottle of St Veran ("dry fruity"), three courses, and coffee, came to just over pounds 100. If, however, you went for a set menu and house wine you could get by at under pounds 20 a head - pretty good value in such a convivial haunt. Suddenly it was 12.30am and the three gym witches were getting very dry and fruity with three large moustachioed chaps who had been on a different table and looked like members of a Central-American mercenary army. It didn't quite seem Mary Poppins but would make an excellent BBC drama.Reuse content