By Jo Cooksey
I don’t normally frequent the Oxford Road end of Portland Street, preferring to hang out within a short stroll of Piccadilly or Victoria train stations. I’m a bit lazy to be honest.
However, two weeks ago I and a pal found ourselves down there hunting for The eXchange Food And Drink Lounge , which is housed in the Novotel. The entrance to the bar/restaurant is on Portland Street but blink and you’ll miss it. We were greeted by Daniel, the manager, who agreed that they needed more visibility so hopefully there will be some more signage soon.
The eXchange is a cosy amalgam of rustic wood, distressed panelling, hanging plants and mismatched tables and chairs. There are also a lot of nods to the fact that the new’ish hotel sits on the site of an old telephone exchange. Unfortunately, there were also three large TV screens showing football, with the volume ramped up. I’m sure if you are a fan of the beautiful game you’d be very happy but I’d rather be able to hear what my companion and the waiting staff were saying. We had a shufty at the hotel reception too and it is very different in appearance; all clean lines, bright colours and beehive hexagons. A nice contrast.
Daniel bought us a cocktail each, (£7-8.50) - menu here , whilst we looked over the menu and they were damned good. My Manchester Collins of Manchester Gin, raspberry puree, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice and soda water was particularly lovely. Daniel was experimenting with new drinks and gave my friend one that was made up of gin, vermouth, raspberry jam, egg white, lemon juice and sugar and decorated with blueberries. She was very happy to be his guinea pig. On the food menu there is a good mix, from superfood salad to dirty burgers and we were hungry.
We decided to start with the baked mini camembert (£5) and the fish tacos (£5), once we had established that the fish in the taco isn’t battered. I don’t do batter. The mini camembert wasn’t mini, there was plenty for us to share and it was accompanied by a good-sized portion of toasted French bread and carrot and celery sticks for dipping. Really tasty. The tacos, again a generous portion of two and again, they were yummy. The pan-fried fish, (naughty me I forgot to ask what type of fish it was), was served with a creamy yoghurt and cucumber salad and a tomato salsa with a nice chilli hit.
The waitress cleared and after a bit of wait our mains arrived. My lunch buddy had chosen The Californian Club Sandwich (£6), a substantial triple decker containing turkey, avocado, bacon, lettuce and ranch dressing on lightly toasted white bread. This butty was tasty and certainly filling. Fortunately, the match had finished, so the shouty commentator was replaced by a pretty decent background playlist.
I had a Classic Cheese Burger (£9). Daniel had recommended ‘The Mill’ Burger (£11.50), which had two patties but I didn’t think I’d be able to manage it, so I stuck with the one burger version. To be honest, whilst the burger was nicely charred, (no, I don’t mean burnt), it was rather dry. It could have done with a couple of minutes less on the flame. The bun was of the brioche type. I have never understood why restaurants have, in recent years, insisted on serving a hearty patty on a soft, flimsy roll that falls apart the second you take your first bite. I want to be able to grip my burger to the last mouthful, not to have to end up eating with a knife and fork. Please serve sturdier rolls everyone! Rant over.
We both opted for side orders of fries (£3), sweet potato for my mate and chunky normal potato ones for me. Oh my goodness! I’m not a big fan of the chip so very rarely order them. To me they are the simplest thing in the world but they seem so easy to get wrong. However, both of these versions were fabulous. Both very hot, very crispy on the outside and very fluffy on the inside. It was worth the walk from Victoria just for those alone. If I could guarantee getting chips like these, every time I ordered them, I’d be eating chips every day. Who knew the humble chip could be so good.
We were stuffed and for once we didn’t have room for a pud. Shock, horror, gasp! There was a good selection and from what we saw on other tables they looked pretty decent.
In summary, we liked the décor, the staff and most of the food. We thought the prices were reasonable and the portions generous. We could have done without the football commentary. Would we come back? If we were up that end of town then yes, we would.
We were guests of The eXchange but as always, the review and opinions are our own and unbiased.