Two things are noticeable about Flor as soon as you walk in. First, the promising sight of freshly-baked bread and viennoiseries awaiting consumption. Secondly, the slightly less inspiring lack of space. In estate agent patois this restaurant would be described as “snug” or “cosy” – which basically means they cram in as many bums on seats as humanly possible in a compact, two-floor venue (three if you include the toilets in the loft). You could say that the team behind Lyle’s have adapted to the hand they’ve been dealt. But no-one forced them to set up shop in this tiny corner of Borough Market, or take inspiration from every Parisian bistro’s economical approach to espace personnelle.
Perhaps that’s harsh as an opening salvo. Commercial space is in short supply and business rates are insane. I get all that. But the corollary of cramming in so many people into a tight space, where brick walls are exposed and soft furnishings are non-existent, is noise. On top of the dance music in the background – already a few decibels too loud for conversation – gregarious office workers and a gaggle of giggling Prosecco drinkers added to the din.
This, and having to shout to the waiter to be understood, irritated me from the get-go. But at least service was generally good and well-intentioned. One server addressed my by name rather than “sir”, which I always prefer, whilst another had no problem explaining how the brown butter cakes were made (brown butter, brown sugar and almond flour, since you asked – potentially life-shortening in their fat and sugar content but then all the best things in life are). The serving staff do, however, need to cheer up a bit. When I left the restaurant I caught one of them having a nap. I suppose negotiating the tight, spiral staircase every 5 minutes is exhausting.
Flor – whilst far from flawless – is partly redeemed by the food. And it better had, with a Michelin-studded backstory like James Lowe’s.
Their scarlet prawns are already the stuff of Instagram legend. Pleasingly they were available on this visit and lived up to their brain-devouring expectations. Following this, burrata with pear and castelfranco radicchio (£11) was balanced and pleasant enough, and paired well with a sprightly Californian Chardonnay (the Lalalu from low intervention winery Inconnu).
This segued nicely into a bowl of hake, coco beans and chicoria (£14). Hake, in all its ugly yet sustainable glory, is becoming more common in the UK as an alternative to cod. It can have a tendency towards blandness so it needs good cooking skills to bring out its best qualities. Here, the hake lacked a little seasoning but nevertheless this soup bowl was comforting on an autumnal day.
A larger plate of red deer (£26) had mixed results. The venison was cooked well: seasoned on one side, seared and rested so the juices were locked in. It’s just a pity the dish as a whole didn’t really work. Whilst the redcurrant jus added much-needed sweetness to counterbalance the earthy bitterness of the turnips, the flavour of the turnips dominated the dish. It wouldn’t be out of place in Baldrick’s Little Recipe Book.
Since Flor’s USP is that it’s both a bakery and a restaurant it seems a shame that most of their bread-making skills are consigned to toast and flatbreads to accompany the savoury dishes. When it comes to desserts there’s a surprising lack of pastry skill on display. Apart from the aforementioned brown butter cakes, the only other dessert involving any baking skills was a chocolate tart (notably the most expensive at £9 and served with raw cream – along with the sulphite-free wines, Flor embraces the hipster love of all things au naturel). Still, in case I hadn’t already mentioned it, those brown butter cakes (£5 for 2) are delicious with an espresso (though perhaps what you really need on the side is a vial of insulin).
So, I have mixed feelings about Flor. If you could have this food in a more spacious, less noisy environment where waiting staff smile, I’d be sending more business their way, but when the bill is knocking on the door of £90 a head for a mediocre experience I’m not sure I’d rush to recommend it, let alone rush back myself.
1 Bedale Street
by J A Smith