Union Square Cafe is one of New York City’s most iconic restaurants. For a quarter of a century, it was the benchmark of all that’s great about both that city and New American food.
In contrast, we have this cheeky new namesake which has no connection with Danny Meyer’s legendary bistro. It’s not located near anything called Union or Square, but it does have a vaguely American theme with an interior that’s a mix of Angus Steak House and US hunting lodge.
The ground floor bar is a holding pen for visitors to the O2 Arena – absolutely packed with Pearl Jam fans on our visit, all necking lager (there were no real ales on draught) before heading through the ticket barriers. Old ‘rawk’ music from Steppenwolf to Boston was booming out from the overloud soundsystem. We fled upstairs to the first-floor dining room.
The menu’s a mix of English pub grub and US shopping mall favourites, from burgers or meatballs to chocolate brownies. These would have been fine at half the price, but our shepherd’s pie (£14.50) resembled a ready meal, and the ground lamb base was dry and insipid. Worse still was a New York Strip steak. £26 bought us a 10oz piece of meat that was tough and not especially flavoursome. Quite why anyone would import grain-fed USDA beef like this to the UK, when British grass-fed beef is better quality and cheaper, is beyond me.
The wine list is a mix of bottles that are mid-priced, plus a big list of ‘big label’ wines costing hundreds of pounds, presumably aimed at visiting rock stars. The plus side? The service was sweet and willing. But that’s hardly reason enough to eat here, and if you’re looking for a New York-style dining experience, you’ll be sorely disappointed.