Joe’s is a charming place which is quirkier than it initially seems, and enduringly popular because of the many purposes it can serve as a venue: it is just as naturally a home for a casual burger or worse-for-wear brunch as it is for a celebratory champagne cocktail or a romantic dinner date. I went along for a quick pre-theatre bite with a friend. Despite this relatively short visiting time, the restaurant made many (largely positive!) impressions on me.
Despite the name suggesting somewhere akin to a low-key American diner, the decor and atmosphere of the place is quite upscale. Neutral wall colours, mellow lighting, gentle music set a classy tone, heightened by dark wood tables and comfy leather seating. Yet it isn’t straightforward to characterize in this way, because of the quirky decorations - over-the-top chandeliers, electric guitars adorning the walls, and shelves packed with retro memorabilia. Somehow, this adds personality without compromising the tastefulness. It almost shouldn’t work, yet it does. The only exception to this was the ladies’ toilet, whose loud red and white tiles made me feel a bit queasy. It’s a strange, perhaps deliberate, contrast to the generally relaxing surroundings, which thankfully didn’t detract too much from the overall ambience.
The space was packed for a Thursday night, and my friend and I were only just able to get a table without having made a reservation. Despite being so busy, we did not feel cramped at all, and fortunately our lack of forethought was not echoed by the staff, who were friendly and attentive throughout. A great example of this was the speedy arrival of our cocktails. Many mixologists seemingly take pains (and ages) crafting drinks, so being able to clink our glasses within a couple of minutes of ordering was refreshing. The results were very easy on the eye, in addition to being delicious. My friend went for the festively fragrant, warming Gingerbread Man, while I had the Caribbean Champagne, which featured fresh banana. We agreed that the cocktail menu was a bit different and fun - I imagine that the lively birthday party group near us would concur!
We spent a long time poring over the menu because there was such a wide variety on offer, spanning many different cuisines. It was also pleasing to see so many vegetarian options, particularly ones which featured lots of actual vegetables and had clearly been devised thoughtfully. On this occasion, however, I decided to shun my environmental responsibilities for the greater good of sampling that most natural friend of the eponymous grill: meat.
The food was simple but well-executed, in a way which suggested the chefs are highly experienced in employing the grill to maximum effect. I opted for a Morroccan spiced lamb burger, which was excellently flavoursome: it had a distinctive lambiness without being overpoweringly meaty. I am sure I looked anything but elegant while attacking this hefty pile of food, especially in polite company, but I got somewhat swept up in the novelty of munching such a casual dish in the atmospheric surroundings... My friend’s herb-crusted cod was also enjoyable, with the stand-out item being the unusual saffron aioli. We shared a side of halloumi fries which were the best-value item on the menu by quite a way: I imagine it would be a struggle to find so much cheese for just £4 anywhere else. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time (or space!) to consider dessert, so I will have to return.
The combination of the varied menu and the fun setting make Joe’s a pleasingly versatile dining experience, which will provide an enjoyable meal for groups of all shapes and sizes.