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Snacking at the ICA

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In a fit of self improvement, Kikujiro and I took in Winterbottom's latest film last night at the ICA. By time the closing credits ground to a halt, we were deepy moved, passionately politicised - and er, rather peckish. (I blame the restaurant scene near the beginning.)

Wanting nothing more than to nosh and discuss the film at length, we headed for the ICA bar/cafe/canteen space. We walked in, were immediately overwhelmed by the incredibly crowded upstairs bar, and ended up drifting into a tiny and worryingly underpopulated canteen-like room tucked away behind a pillar. Here the confusion began. There was a menu on the table, but the kitchenette visible at the back of the room was dark. Black-clad staff drifted around with empty dishes, but didn't make eye contact. On closer inspection, the menu gave listings for the bar, the cafe, and the canteen - but we had no way of working out which of those spaces we were in, and the serving times appeared to be the same for all of them. ("What do you think? Does this feel like a canteen to you?" I quizzed Kiku at one point.) Throughout all this, the staff ignored us. Less obsessed souls might have given up and gone elsewhere, but we had already noted the Appreciation of Spanish Pig - a plate of iberico ham, chorizo and other porcine goodies - on the menu and were determined to press on.

"Maybe we need to go to the bar." Kiku offered, sounding unconvinced. Seconds later, he finally managed to catch a staff member's eye, and we discovered that only the bar menu was available (why?) and therefore pig appreciation was out of our grasp. We decided to opt for a tapas-like selection of bacon/chicken terrine, salt cod fritters with chilli ketchup, sweet potato wedges with garlic mayo, marinated artichokes (one each, as it happens), a small dish of olives and and small dish of tortilla wedges with salsa and guacamole.

Overall, the quality was good, though not terribly exciting. The salt cod fritters had a nice texture, but were less cod-y and salty than I expected. Their accompanying dip was sweet and tomato-y, but had forgotten its chilli. The colourful mix of large green, medium black and tiny purple olives tasted mostly of cumin. The tortilla chips were freshly fried (a little too freshly, as they were still shiny with grease) and their salsa also lacked an expected chilli-punch. The sweet potato wedges were wonderful - huge, caramelised, creamy and perfectly complemented by their garlic mayo side - but needed to be cut into managable pieces. The biggest disappointment for me, however, was the layered terrine. It looked lovely, but tasted of very little. It made the missing Pig Plate seem all the more unattainably wonderful. :sad:

The ICA bar isn't a destination restaurant, but you could do a lot worse after spending 90 minutes in the dark watching subtitles fly by. Just don't order the terrine. Or believe any menu description that promises chillies.

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Miss J's right about the olives. I kept eating them in the hope that one of them might eventually taste of olive. Oh, and she's right about everything else too (except I don't think the tortilla chips were freshly fried). What was utterly bizarre was that this was a daily menu, dated 9 April, which clearly told us the 'bistro' food was available from 6 to 10 (we were trying to eat from about 8.30). No explanation was forthcoming as to why this menu, specially printed for the day, was simply unavailable.

But I think I may have worked it out. I just dug out some blurb I got sent by them a month or so back:

Post refurbishment [the canteen was refurbished? somebody needs to tell them about lighting], you can now eat in new ways at the ICA.

The lunchtime canteen (mon to fri 12-2.30) is a sharp, daily changing menu: soup, salad or a sandwich as well as more substantial dishes. Brunch is served to your table until 4pm sat & sun.

There are now two eays to eat in the evening -- bar or bistro. The bar menu, from 5pm each evening, ranges from nibbles to full meals with a wide selection in between. Our table service bistro (tue to sat, 6-10pm, except on club nights [my emphasis -- there was some event going on in the bar involving laptops] launches in Spring 2003 and is all about good food, fair pricing and relaxed, friendly service.

Food at the ICA is now frill-free cooking in its finest hour [Henderson watch out], as conceived by the new chef-in-residence, Allegra McEvedy previously of Tribeca Grill (N.Y.) and The River Café and author of The Good Cook. Her philosophy is [wait for it] fresh, seasonal, well-sourced ingredients, simply prepared and presented.

So whether it's for eats and drinks in the bar before a movie, business over lunch or a stress-free supper in the bistro, it's all there!

That anything at all came out of the kitchen was fairly amazing, seeing as it looked pitch black in there.

Edited by Kikujiro (log)
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If you were out of the movie before 8.30 then there was really no excuse for not going somewhere a bit decent. I mean the ICA bar for Godssake. You should know full well by now that eating in any arts connected bar spells mediocre at best and disaster at worst. There are loads if places nearby you could have gone for an interesting bite.

Come on guys. You're letting the side down.

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If you were out of the movie before 8.30 then there was really no excuse for not going somewhere a bit decent.

Oh, I don't know - Time Out has been raving away about how great the food is at the ICA for ages, so I was curious to try it. But then, it wouldn't be the first time Time Out has raved about something distinctly ordinary. :sad:

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