Food & Drink: Three cheers for the new brigade: The Waterloo landmark that was once a fire station is ringing the right bells with diners, says Emily Green

SUCH old public buildings as remain in Waterloo and its south London environs are slowly being reinvented. The railway station is still a railway station, but the library is now a bedraggled community centre, and a nearby mental institution has become a hotel with very small windows. The local fire station has had several changes of use. Until recently it served as a doss house; then, three weeks ago, it became a bar-restaurant.

These changes sit uncomfortably here, as does so much of the bungled town planning. But the Fire Station restaurant has three things going for it: it is particularly handy for commuters and theatregoers patronising the Old Vic, it has friendly, able staff, and it serves excellent food.

Two of the three partners have a background in theme restaurants. They considered housing an American dining car in the station's engine room, only to find that it would not fit through the doors. Then one bright spark suggested they simply kit the place out with a bar, tables, chairs, a kitchen, and find a good cook.

They needed lots of tables and chairs, for the place is vast. Original tiled walls mean that music booms. Guests holler. The kitchen, somewhat theatrically, is on an open-plan platform overlooking the dining room.

The chef they chose, 34-year-old Dan Evans, is first-rate. Although this is his first foray south of the river, he has fed a fair number of Londoners. He cooked for three-and-a-half years with Alastair Little in Soho, spent 18 months as head chef of Odette's in north London, and for a year was head chef of 192, the west London bar-restaurant.

Praise for his food at the Fire Station must come with a proviso. Mr Evans is not so much its chef as a consultant chef, hired to set up the kitchen. He may leave after December, by which time the cooks he has hired and trained will, it is hoped, be sending out food as good as his.

For most young chefs, this would be aiming high. You would have to go to Paris, or Bibendum, to find jambon persille as good as that served at the Fire Station for pounds 2.75 last Friday night. The ham, herbed liberally with chopped parsley and set in a delicate jelly, was served with toasted brioche, hot mustard, green beans that had been coated in a sweetish mustard sauce, and a pleasing little dollop of a Puy lentil salad.

What were listed as tortelloni were actually more like cylinders of tender pasta, filled with ricotta and spinach, and set in a fresh tomato sauce, available in small or large portions (pounds 3.75 or pounds 5.75).

An egg, anchovy and leek salad is the sort of bonne femme dish that too few chefs deign to make. More is the pity for it is simple and, again, delicious. Ditto for melting, well-seasoned duck livers on a great pile of salad leaves.

Wines show promise. All are available by the glass. A four-year-old beaujolais from Regnie, at pounds 1.90 per glass, is a good basic red. A white Spanish sparkler, Catalan Cava Raventos i Blanc, at pounds 15, is an intelligent alternative to cheap champagne.

HOW to commend a restaurant called Big Night Out? The name suggests an American diner in a fire station. The reality, in a lovely parade in Regent's Park, north London, is a civil, somewhat trendy restaurant where small, witty gestures are preferred to outright wackiness. For example, while the room is cool and spare, the staff uniform appears to be purple denims. And while the cooking veers towards the formal, the execution is sure and prices are realistic. The set lunch is pounds 9.50 to pounds 13.50; set dinner pounds 13 to pounds 16.50. A dinner a la carte with the works might cost pounds 30 to pounds 40.

The owners, Hugh O'Boyle and Richard Coates, began working together 10 years ago at the Ritz, and formed an outside catering company in 1988. Victim number one of a silly name, it was called A la Kart.

It was far from a la carte during a recent lunchtime sitting at Big Night Out. A fixed price, no-choice menu offered mussels with pesto, grilled chicken, and a chocolate terrine. The mussels were good. The chicken was even better, its skin crisp and seasoned to the hilt. The overriding flavour was of sage, billed as an ingredient in an accompanying tomato confit, but which seemed to have been deployed everywhere. The meat sat on rosti, a faddish arrangement, prone to greasiness, not just from the frying but from the meat juices. The chocolate terrine, in a coffee cream, was spot on.

I questioned the lack of choice. Evidently others had, too. The owners are now expanding the lunch menu to a choice of two starters, two main courses and any pudding.

The dinner menu offers good choice and a certain whimsy in the naming of dishes: 'rillette of duck' is actually a terrine with shallots, a lean and good one, served with braised wild mushrooms. The lobster ravioli was OK, the pasta tough, the accompanying shellfish sauce excellent.

Baked rabbit, again strangely served on a rosti potato cake, merited full marks for technique. The skin was well seasoned and crisp, the meat moist - something of a feat, given that the bone had been replaced with ham and herb forcemeat. Roast brill was excellent: this cook can certainly season and finish a crust, here using industrial quantites of fresh herbs. Mangetout and tomatoes, also highly herbed, were arranged artistically around the plate, with a generous dousing of flowery French olive oil mixed with truffle oil and a dash of remarkably good vinegar. Tagliatelle, overcooking slightly beneath the brill, sopped up some of the good juices.

The wine list is pricier than the food. The average bottle costs pounds 20. Much is from the New World. A Hogue Cellars 1990 Merlot from Washington State (pounds 19.90) was delicious. An Australian rose, Charlie Melton 1993 Rose of Virginia (pounds 14.60), was the colour of an evil fizzy drink, but had a light fruity flavour: a perfect summer wine.

The Fire Station, 150 Waterloo Road, London SE1 (071-401 3267). Bar open 12noon-11pm Mon-Sat, restaurant open 12noon-11.30pm (last orders) Mon-Sat. Vegetarian dishes. Loud music. Cash and cheques only.

Big Night Out, 148 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 (071-586 5768). Vegetarian dishes. Children welcome: special portions on request. Open lunch Tues-Fri and Sun, dinner Tue-Sat, afternoon tea Tue-Sat. Access, Visa, Amex.

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Life and Style
View of champagne glasses at a beach bar set up along the Croisette during the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes on May 17, 2013
food + drink(and for now, there's a clear winner)
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?