Ironically, our visit to The Happenstance was no happenstance itself but I can understand how people could easily stumble upon it. Just a stones throw from St Pauls and Fleet Street offices, this would be a haven for both well walked tourists and desk slaves. It’s part bar, part restaurant, part deli and florist?! That’s a lot of hats to juggle but on this particular evening, we were only concerned with what they can manage with their restaurant hat on!
We were guided through the bar, which was full every which way you look, to the dining room at the rear. I was immediately taken aback by how huge it is, and though it may be a little done to death, I loved that painfully engineered rustic interior, the high ceilings, and open kitchen combination. The kitchen is big too, which is understandable when you look at the variety of dishes it promises to churn out – in my mind, more dishes equals more pressure so I had my fingers crossed for the kitchen team.
A big menu like this would usually leave me dilly dallying for ages but on this occasion things were made considerably easier as we were test driving the new Autumnal offerings. Three items for each course were much more manageable. Once we’d got the hard part out of the way (the ordering) we turned our attention to the drinks. I’m told The Happenstance have a cracking cocktail selection but after the previous two nights on the tipple, we decided to be a bit more demure with a bottle of wine and happily agreed to a bottle of pinot noir based on our food choices. We also accepted a glass of prosecco while we were waiting, out of politeness of course; but at least we had my good news (this serial contractor passed probation on her first ever permanent role) to toast!
A certain someone must have thought the excitement had gone to my head as I’d unusually ordered a vegetarian starter of wild mushroom bruschetta. I have a soft spot for fungi so why not? They weren’t quite as expected; they looked to be brown buttons with a more exotic mix of shitake and enoki rather than chanterelles and porcini, but buttery and earthy all the same. I just wish they’d toasted that slab of ciabatta it sat on a fraction longer – no one likes to wrestle with their bread.
To make up for my lack of meat, a certain someone plumped for the meatballs with feta, spinach and pine nuts which looked a mess but a rich, satisfying mess at that. He described it as one of those guilty pleasure dishes you’re a little ashamed to admit to liking but you’d eat all over again and again. Says it all.
I reverted back to the predictable with the venison pie on spiced red cabbage and was relieved to be greeted by a real pie. One with wonderfully crisp, properly cooked pastry all round, not just a pathetic slice on top; when one decides to indulge, there’s no point doing it by halves. It was well-filled with chunks of tender venison and carrots, which I dowsed with lashings of the gravy. My preference is for thicker gravy, but what it lacked in density, it made up for in flavour.
We were slightly less enthusiastic about the roasted cod with brown shrimp and gremolata mash. The combination is tried and tested so the flavours were sound, it was the execution that let it down. The fish and mash were both a touch dry, leaving the former a little sad and the latter a little grainy. Thank goodness for the buttery brown shrimps which did their best to bind the elements together and inject some much needed flavour!
We did agree that both desserts were equally good, so no one lucked out there. The pecan tart was just as it should be; sticky, sweet pecans encased in a crunchy pastry base showing no signs of soggy bottoms. I had my work cut out for me with the huge slice of chocolate and orange jaffa cake – I imagine getting through the whole thing would be akin to eating an entire packet of the real deal. I’ll never quite know as its thick layers of cake, jelly and chocolate ganache defeated me, despite my very best efforts.
So how did The Happenstance do with its restaurant hat on? Pretty well, in our opinion. Let’s be clear, there are no airs and graces here, this is not fine dining – instead, the name of the game is casual dining and they delivered this with ease. Yes, the menu is large but it’s deliberately filled with crowd-pleasing dishes. The Happenstance is a place you might happen upon – after a long day at the office, after a long day of sightseeing, or just after a long day in the neighbourhood. You might pop in for a drink but stay for a meal – there will no doubt be something simple and satisfying on the menu to your liking!
Have you stumbled upon The Happenstance before?
Thanks for The Happenstance for a casual evening of crowd-pleasing favourites, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.