Have you ever had those places that you’ve walked by a bunch of times and always thought “That looks lovely”? I do it all the time, I kind of develop these little crushes on bars and restaurants around London. I’ll walk by and something will catch my eye, maybe the name, maybe the music, some part of the décor I can see through the window.
Sarastro was like that for me. I first stumbled across it a few years ago, and the plant-covered exterior in the middle of Drury Lane caught my eye. I remember opening the door to peer inside (I do this often, I’m incurably nosy) and the place was just a shock of gold, velvet and colour. I marked it down on my little mental “To Visit” list and that was that.
When I graduated last summer, my mother wanted to take my brother, my boyfriend and I out to dinner to celebrate. The Bulgarian and I usually go for cheap and cheerful eats, but mom wanted us to pick somewhere a little nicer, so Sarastro got taken out of the “To Visit” file and we made a reservation.
One the day of the dinner, we were seated in a cute little opera style box. There was a singer singing bluesy/Amy Winehouse style songs and the place had a lovely, warm, lively atmosphere. The food was mediocre at best, not very far removed from what I could make myself at home, but everything else kind of glossed over that.
Fast forward to last night. The Bulgarian wanted to take me to dinner, and being the lovely soul he is, he thought Sarastro would be a nice choice as we had such a lovely evening there with my family.
Walking into the restaurant, it was like walking into somewhere completely different. The lights were bright and combined with the gold, over the top décor, it felt very much like standing in the middle of a tacky nightclub at the end of the night when the lights go on.
The service was slow. There was a basket of dry bread, but no butter, placed on our table but after that, we had to flag down waiters to try and make an order. The place was empty barring ourselves and maybe two or three other couples, with no atmosphere; it felt weirdly quiet, like you’d almost be self conscious chatting.
For vegetarians, there were three options. I asked if I could have one of them without mushrooms and was told it was premade and frozen (Gordon Ramsay would have a heart attack at this point), so I had to go with penne arrabiata. We both got borek to start, these turkish cheese filled pastries.
While the food wasn’t horrific, the borek was very greasy and the pasta tasted like something I could make myself at home with some sauce from a jar.
I think the main appeal of Sarastro is its ostentatious, over the top style and the warm atmosphere, but with the lights on and the atmosphere gone, it just feels dated and cheap.
The bill for the two of us came to £44, which isn’t exactly cheap for food that was so bland and unremarkable. It was really disappointing, especially as the Bulgarian had wanted to bring us for a nice meal.
I think it’s safe to say neither of us will be visiting Sarastro again, and it’s a shame, but it’s London, so I’m sure it won’t be long before I get a crush on somewhere else.