Bill’s is a bit of a Sussex institution supplying the good folk of Lewes and Brighton with brunch and a selection of quality produce and it has recently opened its first branch in London. Nestled in the new development off Long Acre beside a branch of Jamie’s Italian, it is a cosy and welcoming spot, especially on a freezing snowy December afternoon.
Despite several large tables occupied with Christmas parties, we got a table easily and sat down to peruse the varied menu. There is quite a large choice of both sweet and savoury items, but not everything is served at all times with most breakfasts finishing at midday and brunch dishes served from then until 6pm. We needed a few minutes to check everything out and make our decision, but the rather eager staff came every few seconds to see if we were ready. Feeling slightly pushed, A went for the lasagne, J chose for the vegetable risotto from the main menu and I opted for the bubble and squeak, ham and fried eggs from the brunch dishes. Unfortunately they had run out of bubble and squeak, so I changed my order to the fish finger sandwich instead.
We each also ordered an Earl Grey tea and were pleased to that it was well priced at £1.75 and came in a huge enamel pot with at least 3 cups per person at no extra cost. Sipping our tea and relaxing in our surroundings, we were joined by two others and sort of lost track of time until we realised we had sunk the entire pot of tea and it was at least 40 minutes since we’d placed our food order and several tables who had come in after us had already started eating. It arrived very soon after we enquired as to what the hold up was, leading me to think that it had been sitting waiting for it to be collected while larger tables were served.
In fact, my fish finger sandwich wasn’t terribly warm, but then we all know toast doesn’t hold its heat well, so it might have been coincidental. It was well filled with four large fish fingers on toasted home made white bread and loaded with a delicious relish style ketchup and a gherkin heavy tartare sauce. I’m not normally a big condiment person, but these were gorgeous, really tasty and lifted this from a basic sandwich to something really moreish. I wolfed it down in no time, enjoying it no end, but wishing I’d ordered the skin on chips to go with it as it wasn’t terribly filling and the nearly hour’s wait hadn’t help make me less hungry!
The others seemed to enjoy their dishes, but again felt they were a little on the cool side from the wait. The risotto was filled with a wide selection of vegetables and looked great. It came with the offer of parmesan on top for extra flavour, but it didn’t seem to need it. One of the people who had joined us had ordered this too and both seemed to enjoy it, enjoying the kick of chilli on a cold day. The lasagne was also just the ticket for the weather, rich with beef and tomato and again thoroughly enjoyed as a good tasty simple dish.
Things went slightly awry when we tried to order more tea and some dessert. The staff seemed to change shift and the waitress who had been dealing with us disappeared, leaving us at the mercy of a particularly ditzy waiter who refilled our enormous tea pot with enough hot water to sink the Titanic and one solitary teabag for five of us. We asked for another at least 2 bags and instead of taking the pot away and adding them in, he handed us two unwrapped bags to add in ourselves and walked off when we asked to order dessert. It took around ten minutes of frantic signalling to get him back over to take the order.
We were soothed by the swift arrival of delicious looking desserts. J and I had gone for the carrot cake, E for the heavenly sounding toffee apple crumble, V the date cake with walnuts and A chose the warm chocolate brownie with ice cream. Desserts are quite pricey with the crumble at £5.85 and the brownie at £4.85 and sadly the crumble didn’t live up to its billing, being described as bland and too sweet. The date cake didn’t really get mentioned at all, but the brownie seemed to be good, coming swathed in chocolate sauce and with a decadent dollop of ice cream on top.
I was less impressed by my carrot cake which I strongly suspected wasn’t home made. It was too uniformly shaped for me and had a cloying aftertaste that smacked of hydrogenated vegetable oil to me and both the filling and frosting were overly sweet. It wasn’t awful, but I was a bit disappointed since I assumed somewhere like this would have made its own baked goods. I do note that the menu doesn’t state anything is home made, just freshly prepared…
We sat on for another hour at least after finishing the desserts, sinking another pot of tea and having a good old chat. I have to say the staff were great, just clearing our plates without pushing us to buy more stuff and leaving us well alone until we asked for the bill. The laid back attitude redeemed the previous quibbles with service and we loved sitting gossiping as the night crept in, the candles came out on the table and the Christmas party behind us grew ever more merry. We left about 6.30 and never felt pressure from the staff even though the place was starting to fill up for the dinner crowd. It felt more like your local caff in that respect than a new, large West End business and we appreciated it greatly. If we hadn’t had other plans, we’d have been ordering a welcome glass of hedgerow fizz or a Bloody Mary at a very reasonable £3.50 each.
Despite the erratic service and slightly weak desserts, I really really liked Bill’s. The main courses were great with a good range of prices and choices making this somewhere to suit all pockets. There’s tonnes of space round the tables so it feels quite private and somewhere you can really get comfy. It’s busy, bustling and yet easy enough to hear yourselves chat. If they get the service sorted, this will be a fantastic addition to Covent Garden which is surprisingly lacking in places you can waste a day chatting away. Definitely pop in if your festive shopping gets too much for you and hope you’re early enough to sample one of the legendary breakfasts!