A joke becomes obvious on arrival: this place isn’t in the loop. You’ll find it just outside the city walls hanging to the edge of the ring road. And so we enter the outworn trope of the suburban trying on the urbane. The website situates the restaurant ‘close to the Barbican centre’ whilst the eye places it by a charity store, why so? Why pretend?
At some point during the last century, straight forward British food got a makeover. Pubs were given the ‘gastro’ prefix, and restaurant chains whose carte-du-jour rose and fell around The Steak were shifted into the category of a ‘Grill’. Whether this is a case of shining an incurably bad section of the national palette or whether it is PR spin on what really is good British food is as debateable as entering these places.
The Loop fits remarkably well into this category, bearing a self-consciously hip and ambiguous name which screams for ‘updated eat’ as its byline. This runs through the food, with chips stacked like jenga blocks next to an 80s revival of the ‘Surf n’ Turf’ classic. The steak is cooked perfectly and the prawns are full of flavour. For the bothered there is a lot of meat and a distinct lack of salad, and the steak is served with a fairly non-descript garlic butter sauce. Nevertheless, this was the unrivalled winner of the evening, introducing the usual scenario of showstoppers shrinking the burgers and the pies to space filling flotsam on the menu. It is a repetition of the usual grill down-fall.
The mixed platter starter is tasty but doesn’t depart far enough from the infamous Slug & Lettuce platter. Ribs, chicken wings and onion rings merge with the usual beige-battered party nibbles. There is nothing fresh, conceptually or truly in the choice of starters. Deserts are also your stock characters: chocolate fudge sundaes, cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding etc. etc. This is the malaise of the middling restaurant, where paying a little more doesn’t always add the experience.
I entered the Loop under celebratory circumstances and the good dozen of us had a great time anyway. Parents included meant champagne and free-flowing wine, so we filled the place with an injection of humour that the interior lacks. The space is lofty but hollow, the modern décor feels fussy and sterile and the bar sits unnaturally by the eating area. The floor space ambiguously floats between the concept of ‘Bar’ and ‘Grill’. By no means is it an intimate setting, but it works for parties and conferences.