That's not to say that there's anything at all wrong with Palm Court. Notwithstanding that I was less than impressed when my pointing out that our table was wobblier than a Crossroads set was met with the response 'Yes they're all like that', service was fine, although Andrew had to reassure me that it shouldn't worry me so much that the adjacent table had to wait what seemed like aeons for their main courses, whereas ours appeared mere seconds after our starters had been cleared away. The decor's none too bad either, in a harmless Paris-by-numbers kind of way, although lighting fell on the squinting side of subdued.
As for the food, it was fair-to-middling for the most part; not bad for a freebie but perhaps not the best showcase for what the kitchen can do (which I would have thought to be the reasoning for offering these reward meals - to impress people enough to want to come back, or perhaps I'm oversimplifying things?) Andrew's starter, a Greek-ish salad of feta, tomato and spinach, was fresh and colourful on the plate; mine, a very ordinary, bought-in chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche (chewy) and onion marmalade - about a teaspoon thereof - was alright but certainly didn't justify a £2 supplement. We got luckier with our mains, both opting for braised gammon ham with mash and grain mustard sauce, which was very pleasant if a little more pub-grub than brasserie-fare. Puddings, from the main menu, were good if not great; Andrew's sticky toffee pudding elicited a 'very nice', and my cheese plate was good on choice and quality but let down by no warning being given that the promised quince paste accompaniment - one of my favourite things - had run out.
When the bill came, our one extra course each, bottle of house red, side dish of green beans and 12.5% service had added £20 a head to our starting balance of £0 - quite a hike. Still not too bad for a three course dinner you might say, but ultimately I can't not compare Palm Court Brasserie with the vastly superior Brown's. I've been eating at Brown's rather a lot of late - it's pretty much become my default destination for casual, quality dining - and everything has been consistently excellent (OK, some duff shallot vinegar with my oysters let things down a little bit the other day, if you really want me to get picky). What's even better is that if you register as a 'Friend of Brown's' on their website right now, you can download a reuseable voucher entitling two people to a two course dinner including a bottle of house wine for just £29. Even adding a couple of puds won't push that figure too far north of the £40 we ended up shelling out at Palm Court for an experience that just wasn't as good.
Joe Public however can't seem to get enough of Palm Court Brasserie; whether it's the special offers, or the location, or some seriously good food that just didn't reach our table this time, something brings the punters flocking in - the entire room was completely packed, with vacated tables being reoccupied in rapid succession. And with that level of business, it's clear that the ones really reaping the Rewards here aren't the Toptable faithful, but the people behind Palm Court Brasserie.
Palm Court Brasserie, 39 King Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8JS tel: 020 7240 2939 www.palmcourtbrasserie.co.uk>
Brown's, 47 Maddox Street, London W1R 9LA and branches. www.browns-restaurants.co.uk