British cuisine gets a bad rap for being a boring mix of bland fish, meats and potatoes. Quite the contrary, the cuisine can be quite delectable, provided that fresh and properly selected ingredients are used in its preparation. Unaware of many local restaurants celebrating this style of food, we were excited hearing owner Charles Phan opened The Coachman this month in SoMa. We recently visited this establishment to understand how well the cuisine was executed.
Exterior and Ambiance
Nestled in a corner space under the SoMa Grand condos, open glass windows and low lighting make for an inviting entrance. The interior incorporates a front placed open kitchen, middle positioned long bar, and rear situated dining area. The bar area is beset with an irregular sliced wood counter top and a backlit rear shelf representing an impressive array of caramel colored spirits. As we walked to our table, we noticed the interior filled with a multitude of honey colored hues that seem to emanate from the glowing back wall. Despite missing the feel of a British establishment, the relaxed interior was both attractive and warm.
Lass O’ Gowrie Cocktail (12yr Whiskey, Honey, Punt E Mes, Peychaud’s Bitters)
The Lass O’ Gowrie drink was endowed with a submerged chunky block of ice that brimmed with an amber colored liquor. Drinking the chilled elixir was an experiment in ingredient symbiosis, as the sweet honey tamed the sharpness of the whisky and the Punt E Mes’s bitterness was offset by the floral tones of the Peychaud Bitters. Overall, the cocktail’s complexity and deep earthy robust tones rightly complimented a hearty British style menu.
Salt Cod, Potatoes, Radishes, Curly Cress Salad
The salted cod salad was a simple dish of arugula, watercress, radishes, potatoes and salted cod bits. The lightly dressed greens were fresh and crisp but the savory cod was difficult to enjoy in its small crumbled portions. Larger fish pieces may have given an appreciation for the flesh texture and lent a better eating experience. Although there were areas for improvement, the salad was light and primed the appetite for the upcoming entrees.
Bone Marrow, Snails, Pickled Vegetables
The bone marrow plate consisted of charred toast, pickled cucumbers, and a crisscross stack of bone halves topped with snails. A garlic and mustard glaze dressed the bones and was intended to increase the entree’s flavor and complexity. The tender snails and pickled cucumbers complemented the buttery marrow. Unfortunately, the entire experience was marred by usage of a heavy oil in the glaze that lent to an overall greasy mouthfeel.
Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding, Jus
It would almost be an injustice for a British restaurant not to offer prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. An example was appropriately listed on the menu and we anxiously called for it. We wish we hadn’t. The undercooked prime rib portion was fatty and difficult to chew. In addition, the tough beef lacked salt and seasonings to make the experience worth the effort. We sought refuge in the Yorkshire pudding but were equally disappointed by its burnt shell and tasteless interior. We judged the dish hopeless and sent it back to the kitchen. Beef and Yorkshire pudding is considered a staple of traditional British cuisine. This poorly executed example should be considered a royal travesty!
Skate Wing, Brown Butter, Caper Berries
The skate wing was our replacement dish for the aforementioned returned prime rib. It was slightly discerning that the entree came within minutes of our order as it hinted that it was not made to order. Nonetheless, the fanned fish portion was adequately cooked with the juicy flesh pulling easily from the bony wing. The herb, caper, and caper berry brown butter sauce complemented the white fish meat and added a citrusy profile. Detracting from the flavors was the sauce’s usage of heavy oils (similar to the bone marrow dish) that didn’t sit well in the stomach.
Lemon Posset Dessert
The Lemon Posset dessert contained both traditional gummy lemon curd and a separate high emulsion lemon flavored mixture. The sauces were topped with an egg white pastry crumble and flower bits. Overall, the two sauces gave a fresh sweet lemon flavor but the pastry crumble wasn’t the ideal pairing. A homemade sweet english biscuit or french friand would have been a more proper and traditional pairing.
Banoffee Pie Dessert
The multitude of representations of a Banoffe Pie allows the chef to explore his culinary creativity by experimenting with a unique set of ingredients. Our representation consisted of a pastry crust topped with bananas, pudding, fresh whipped cream, and chocolate shavings. Disappointingly, the pastry bottom crust tasted store-bought and its hardness (or staleness) detracted from the sweet rich pudding above.
Overall, the service was exceptional. Upon arrival we were promptly seated to our reserved table and the wait staff was attentive and served entrees in a timely manner. Accidentally, the restaurant added the returned prime rib entree on the final bill which the apologetic waiter quickly resolved.
We were not impressed with the overall experience at The Coachman, as there was a varying amount of issues with our dishes. There were shining elements such as the succulent skate wing and homemade lemon curd but the heavy oils, improperly prepared prime rib, and store-bought ingredients did not justify the $106 (including tip) dinner bill. The cool relaxed ambiance and attentive wait staff were not enough to make up for the expense and our unsettled stomachs.