Under John Torode (of Masterchef fame), S.O.S. was an institution. Workers from myriad industries congregated early for power breakfasts, piping hot coffee and chatter. Simplicity, quality and effectiveness coalesced beautifully. In new, corporate hands, and without Torode’s oversight, S.O.S. is now a shadow of its former self. My recent visit there was among my most disappointing gastro-ventures.
A mug of black Americano to open proceedings was lifeless and unappealing, like a garage coffee you might pick up while doing the petrol. I grew immediately nervous and felt placated only by the existence of chairs – the new owner having dispensed with the long-standing stools that, being fair, were the sole downside of a trip to S.O.S. in better days. I do like lumbar support when sitting for more than a few minutes.
Having ordered a cooked breakfast, I bore witness to quite an epic row between a group of businessmen and the restaurant manager. Businessmen of a certain type can of course be self-aggrandising and obnoxious – in this case, however, it was quite clear that the restaurant was at fault. The restaurant manager – all arms flailing and emotional – seemed to be breathing life into the disagreement rather than diffusing it. The kernel of the complaint was the haphazard arrival of the guests’ meals (like Wagamama without consent), which seemed justified. The manager applied the woeful technique of over-defending his establishment. To me, there is no room for that. It also aggravates the complainant. Anyone in a supervisory or senior position should (a) absorb the comments and let the customer vent and then (b) produce a satisfactory resolution in a conciliatory manner. There is an optional (c) in the form of actually transforming the situation before him or her. Only the silkiest and most experienced of maitre d’ can, like a master sculptor creating art from raw bronze, fashion mutual pleasance and bonhomie from a hostile encounter. Think of Fiennes’ “M Gustave” from Grand Budapest Hotel – there are few with such a gift for human interaction.
After the nearby theatrics, my excuse for a fry-up arrived. Now, I won’t go full Partridge by describing the requisite content and preparation of a traditional English breakfast. Some unforgiveable details must still be revealed. The first of these is toast with no butter. Who does that? No butter on the toast and no butter on the side. In a breakfast context, it’s just wrong. Next: cold bacon. The whole idea of an antidote to a brusque, early morning is that plate of steaming food. To begin the day with cold food on your plate is a shocker. Lastly, the poached eggs were hard. Ugh. Each looked like an overused white ball from a holiday camp’s mini snooker table. I had to send them back. Their replacements were passable.
Normally in a breakfast or brunch situation, I idle. I like to read the paper; maybe order a second coffee. I couldn’t wait to leave S.O.S. Small mercy lay in a bill of only £11, which was nonetheless £11 down the drain. I left half a mug of coffee, half of the breakfast, paid with minimal fuss and got the hell out.
For all the pretty, industrial-chic decor and its proximity to the City, S.O.S. has very little to offer in the present. Anyone who visited during the Torode years will appreciate the size of the change that has taken place.
66-67 Charterhouse Street
by C Ley