Restaurant Review: The Happenstance Bar, London

After the culinary disasters that befell us in Barcelona, I was determined to do better when it came to my birthday weekend in London.  I put in plenty of online research to scout out a venue for Sunday roast, and settled upon the Happenstance, the website of which had the following enticing description:

immerse yourself in a world of curiously good times & happy coincidences at the happenstance. it’s sure to be a welcome addition to your little black book. floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of london’s most iconic landmark, st paul’s, whilst our sophisticated interior encompasses a striking bar & restaurant, bountiful deli, mixology table & florist. our glamorous subterranean private dining room or hidden speak easy “the curious treasury” awaits.

Apart from the annoying use of all lowercase, it sounded perfect, so I booked a table, telling them on the booking form that it would be a birthday treat. Upon receiving booking confirmation by email, I also had to fill in an online profile thing to tell them more about me, and it had asked for my birthday saying that they’d send me something nice for my birthday. As it was soon to be my birthday, it seemed ideal timing.

It wasn’t difficult to locate the Happenstance, as it really is right next to St Paul’s.

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Eagerly anticipating roast beef after a morning of walking around London’s backstreets, we arrived at our allotted time of 1pm (my booking confirmation was at pains to assure me that we must arrive within 15 minutes or our table would be given away!). In fact the place was half empty, even though it was 1pm on a Sunday. And because it was half empty, they didn’t ask for my name when I said we’d booked a table – they just took us straight to the nearest table. Because of this, they wouldn’t have read my booking form, which said that it was my birthday and I was hoping for a view of St Paul’s as described on the website.

However, there was no view of St Paul’s from any part of the inside, despite it saying on the website: “floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of london’s [sic] most iconic landmark, st paul’s [sic]”. So that was Disappointment Number 1.

The decor was nice, and it certainly felt like a trendy and high-quality venue. My only complaint on that score was that our chairs were too low for our tables, but that was a minor gripe compared with what was to follow.

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There was a good choice of food and drink, though we already knew that we wanted the Sunday roast. The drinks menu was nicely designed:

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We decided to order a glass of Prosecco each as an aperitif, as it was a special occasion. I loved the 1920s style glasses! But, Disappointment Number 2:  Lee had to ask them for another glass because there were lipstick marks around the rim of his glass from the previous person to have used it!!

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As I said, we both had the roast beef. It was delivered to the table with no offer of sauces (e.g. horseradish), so I had to ask for some when a waitress eventually came past. She asked someone else to get some, and *eventually* a bloke brought over a small dish of horseradish, but there was no spoon to serve it with. Then about fifteen minutes later the original waitress also brought over a dish of horseradish, again with no spoon! It was such a shambles – Disappointment Number 3.

The meal was nicely presented, with an enamel dish full of vegetables and a copper saucepan with gravy to accompany the plate of beef, all served on a wooden board (as per the trend).

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Before I talk in more detail about the food, I must mention Disappointment Number 4. We had ordered a glass of wine and a beer to come with the meal, the Prosecco having been merely an aperitif. But our other drinks didn’t materialise with the beef, and we had to ask twice for them to be brought to our table. On one of these occasions the waiter said that the order hadn’t been put “in the system”, despite the fact that we’d spoken with the waitress at some length about what beers were available. So we were about half way through our meals by the time the drinks arrived that we’d intended to have with them.

Now onto Disappointment Number 5: the beef looks nice in this photo, but in reality it was so tough and stringy and chewy, I could barely even cut it. The Yorkshire pudding was nice but cold. The roasted carrots and parsnips were undercooked. At no point did anyone come over to ask if everything was ok with our meals.

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Disappointment Number 6: the roast potatoes. The worst thing was that they were blatantly from a frozen pack of roast potatoes, McCain or similar, which we were incredibly unimpressed by. What’s more, the menu said “unlimited roast potatoes”, which was one of the reasons we chose this place, so Lee asked for some more. They didn’t seem at all prepared for such a request, and it took them about 20 minutes to bring them to our table.

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Disappointment Number 7:  when we’d finished, they took our plates away but made no offer for us to see the dessert menu. They just abandoned us basically. I felt as though they couldn’t care less. Just as well they didn’t bring the dessert menu really, as we’d had enough. To be fair, they did give us the wine and beer free of charge to say sorry for having forgotten them, but it was small compensation for the disappointment of a meal we’d both been really looking forward to because it was a celebration of my birthday.

And that was Disappointment Number 8 – they never did send me any birthday treat email, so they’ve been beaten by all the restaurant chains on that front (I’ve had loads of emails from Strada, Pizza Express etc offering me a free bottle of Prosecco for my birthday).

Needless to say, we didn’t tip.

3 Comments on Restaurant Review: The Happenstance Bar, London

  1. Shaad
    March 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm (5 years ago)

    Hey Rachel, sorry to hear about this appalling experience and hope they take note.

    Hopefully the rest of the day was good though?

    • Rachel McCombie
      March 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm (5 years ago)

      The rest of the day was great thanks Shaad! Hope all’s well with you :)

  2. Mona
    March 18, 2015 at 11:35 pm (5 years ago)

    Well that’s a bummer!