Great food and Kylie on the same night? I should be so lucky
Grumpy came up trumps this New Year s Eve. In one of my man-wrapped gifts under our tree, tucked inside a very girlie, pink, glittery book called The Showgirl Princess were tickets to see pop princess Kylie s New Year bash at Wembley. A year ago, Wemble
Grumpy came up trumps this New Year's Eve. In one of my "man-wrapped" gifts under our tree, tucked inside a very girlie, pink, glittery book called The Showgirl Princess were tickets to see pop princess Kylie's New Year bash at Wembley.
A year ago, Wembley Arena might not have topped my list of places to start the year. It would probably have been up there with "stuck in a toilet" or "in the crowds watching Big Ben" as places NOT to be.
However, £35million spent refurbishing the arena as part of the Wembley redevelopment seems to have been put to good use and has smartened up its act. A visit in December to hear local boy-made-good George Michael showed it now to be a considerably smarter venue. Shame that still can't yet be said of its considerably more expensive and less punctual neighbour, the Stadium.
On the night we saw George (who, incidentally, was fantastic, even with a heavy cold) we noticed that there's now a restaurant there. On that occasion it was unfortunately fully booked, so we had to make do with a tub of Revels. Not ones to make the same mistake twice, we reserved a table at which to fuel up for Kylie.
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A few days before, we received a call to tell us they'd only be offering "bar food" on the night - did we still want the table? The lady we spoke to couldn't tell us what was on the menu, just that it would be very nice...
We arrived to find a lengthy queue for tables, which we gaily breezed past, feeling very important. The lighting is glaringly bright, with table tops made of a dark wood veneer and the chairs of hard grey plastic. The designers have succeeded in producing something that combines an airport waiting area and a motorway service station. The staff uniforms run with this theme and wouldn't look out of place at South Mimms. Despite being clad in awful clothes and working on New Year's Eve, they were all still smiling.
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The bar menu offers a range of burgers (beef, chicken and vegetarian), curries (Thai green chicken or vegetable), pasta, steak and salads (Greek or Cajun chicken). Not the food of pop princesses, but a selection of fast food favourites. Our order had to be placed with the manageress at her desk. Drinks had to be purchased at the bar. Grumpy was dispatched with my selection.
Your co-diners will obviously be a good selection from the fan base of that night's act. I was seated among a range of parents with 10-year old daughters, 30 to 40-something female Kylie wannabees and groups of extremely camp men mincing up and down from the bar to the gents. I was mesmerised by one gentleman in a fetching jewelled denim jacket and jeans ensemble when the food arrived.
Grumpy returned from the heaving bar several minutes later bearing a bottle of sub-standard Sauvignon (which he was horrified to have paid £15 for) and some mineral water.
Despite having sat for several minutes (under an upturned side plate), his tagliatelle with ricotta and spinach was still hot. Drowned in a wet, but cheesey sauce, the pasta was not overcooked and had a reasonably amount of (sludgy) spinach. Although clearly cooked in bulk for speedy service, it wasn't too bad for mass catering.
My Tex Mex chicken burger had also been fried earlier and kept waiting for dispatch. Its batter coating was soggy and underwhelming and the chicken itself dried-up and chewy. The bun was a fresh, standard soft burger bun. The chips were thin, hot and fresh with potato skin. Bonus points for effort for the mound of salad leaves, cucumber and tomato but points deducted as it was naked and shrivelled by the wait.
The Greek salad, ordered to share, looked fresh and generous. Big lumps of feta cheese, black and green olives and a scattering of fresh thyme gave a Hellenic flavour to a pile of crisp lettuce, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. It was let down only by the very processed tasting dressing.
The portions were generous enough to reduce us to picking at the salad and my chips whilst several of the waiting team hovered, impatiently waiting to lift our plates. There was an army of them - sufficient to cope with the pre-concert rush but surplus once many of the diners had left to catch the support - Bjorn Again.
By now, the camp strains of "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" were wafting from the auditorium. Grumpy's pop music tolerance was not going to stretch beyond one pop princess, so we reviewed the dessert choices. The list was alluring enough - bread and butter and chocolate puddings, brulee lemon tart, pecan caramel cheesecake and something called red fruit ganache. Wanting to shake our (not inconsiderable) booties with Kylie's rather more pert posterior, we resisted their charms.
The service team were charming, polite, friendly and efficient in fairly challenging circumstances. The food was passable but satisfying and fed a large volume of people quickly. It's okay as support food but doesn't cut it as the main act. I'm also conscious that this was the bar menu and not the restaurant's usual offer. At least Kylie was fantastic.