Where shall we meet ... in Putney?

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The Independent Culture
Putney Bridge restaurant won a RIBA award for its architecture when it opened, and justifiably so. This extraordinary building, with its fine views over the Thames to Bishop's Park, looks like a combination of an ocean liner and a spaceship. Few restaurants can boast a Frink in their lobby, and, though perhaps it has a few too many tables crammed in to suit the airy space, everything looks just gorgeous from the maple booth- dividers to the specially commissioned crockery.

Then discontented noises started drifting about. The food, it seemed, had gone downhill, and service - or the amount of time it took to get it - was a joke: "It gives a whole new meaning to the word waiter," said a friend after a long night out. Now, I absolutely hate those restaurants who rent you your table for a specific time - usually an hour and a half - so they can shovel you out and make double profits, but there has to be a happy medium.

So it was intriguing to find a press release saying that Putney Bridge had a new management team and was promising vast improvements both in food and service. Along we went.

Still beautiful, friendly staff, comfortable chairs. It was lucky, actually, that the chairs were comfy, because we were sitting in them a long time. We sat down at 8.45pm. Some amuse gueules in espresso cups - pumpkin soup, heavy on the garlic, and a foie gras confit with pleasant but unidentified green stuff on top - came just in time to stop us actually leaving. Starters came at 10.15pm. Then there was a pause so long we thought we had been forgotten: maybe we had.

After an hour and a bit, and some whining, we received our main courses. Extremely camp, beautifully arranged puddings followed fairly swiftly thereafter. The awful thing is that I hardly remember a thing about the food. I think it was pretty good - I have the occasional flashback of a lavender creme brulee that only really hit you when you breathed out - but to be honest, by the time it finally came, we had all had so much bread and booze we weren't in a fit state to appreciate it. RIBA, schmiba: if you can't design a restaurant with a big enough kitchen, then any efforts - however talented the staff - are going to be wasted on a bunch of drunks.

Putney Bridge, The Embankment, London SW15 (0181-780 1811)

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