Test Driving Joe Allen - Theatreland's charmer survives its move

courgetteThe huge bowl of zucchini fritti

So, what do we need to know about Joe Allen?

It's been around for a while, since 1977 in fact and as such, has an elevated spot in London's restaurant history. Two of its Maitre d's, Jeremy King and Russell Norman went on to found their own restaurant empires. And Rowley Leigh was head chef here at Joe Allen before he moved on to bigger things at Kensington Place in the late Eighties.

If it's that old, why are you covering it now?

Because it's moved. Lock stock and barrel - with all the theatre posters intact and even the wood panelling - 25 metres around the corner from its original spot.


Because Robert de Niro's hotel is taking over the block where it used to be.

burgerThe 'secret' Joe Allen burger

So has it changed much?

This is a tricky one because (whisper it) we hadn't been to the original. I suppose we'd thought of it as a bit of a tourist trap, but if this new iteration of the restaurant is anything to go by, that was a foolish decision.

Handily, we bumped into Joe Allen regular, food writer Daniel Young who talked us through the changes. So while the old restaurant was technically separated from a bar area with a series of arches, this one has three rooms - a front dining room and then, towards the back, an elevated area and finally a third lower dining room which leads down to a bar. But it still has the bare brick walls and oozes charm.

What kind of food is it?

This is a New York style brasserie so there's proper chopped salads, ribs, a reuben sandwich - you know the drill. We kicked off with an enormous portion of zucchini fritti for under a fiver that would give Sartoria's version a run for its money (that's £8 if you were wondering). A starter of Cornish crab (£10.50) came with a punchy Bloody Mary mayonnaise and the steak tartare was on point to and a steal at £7.95.

caesarChicken caesar salad

Obviously one of us had to have the off-menu burger. That's the one that you have to know about to order (and is the worst kept secret in London). And - to fully get the Joe Allen experience - the other had the chicken Caesar salad for which the restaurant's justifiably famous. It's an old school version and at £17.45 was the most filling salad we'd had in ages. Not one for the calorie-counters.

Desserts are a briefer section, but the one you're really going to want to go for is the classic pecan pie with whipped cream (£6) which we're still dreaming about.

What about drinks?

They're equally good value. Our martini for £9.95 wasn't going to challenge the likes of The Connaught or Dukes, but it was decently made. Perhaps a better choice was the Sidecar (£8.50). Wines follow the same lines - a big 250ml glass of Grillo's only going to set you back £8 and our No Stone Unturned semillon chardonnay at £29 was sufficiently full-bodied to match up to our mains.

pecanThe pecan pie. Every bit as good as it looks.

Overall thoughts

At the table I wondered whether celebrities still go to Joe Allen, a question resolved by a trip to the ladies which thrust me into conversation with Bonny Langford and Sandi Toksvig. Yes, this place still has it. If you're like us and haven't been before, rectify that immediately. If you're an old hand, you'll be soothed by the way this move has been managed.

Hot Dinners were invited to Joe Allen. Prices are correct at the time of writing.

Where: 2 Burleigh Street, London WC2E 7PX

How to book: call 0207 836 0651

More information:Visit Joe Allen’s website or follow them on Twitter @JoeAllenWC2 @JoeAllenWC2and Instagram @JoeAllenLondon.