Not Quite a Lift-Off for Re-Vamped Rocket

Our reviewer tries out the new regime at gastro-pub

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The Rocket, Acton

The Rocket, Churchfield Road, Acton

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The Rocket

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I want to love the Rocket. It's my local. It's at the end of my road and it's one of those places you walk into and want to linger in, enjoying a drink and some food in this spruced up pub.

It feels more bohemian and cosy than before. The rather tired-looking and grubby soft furnishings which lined the dining room area have been replaced by attractive wooden chairs with smart leather seats. The chandelier is still there but the new red velvet curtains, bottles of red wine set out on the bar and a tantalising view of four chefs at work in the kitchen make you feel you're in for a treat. The cool, jazzy music in the bar area, at just the right volume, and the lively atmosphere - even on a Monday night - get you in the right mood as soon as you walk through the door.

We were presented with menus and started to work out what we should choose. We were both ravenous. Starters range from £4.50 (coconut and cauliflower soup with flaked almonds) to £6.25 for seared king scallops with spiced carotte and ginger puree.

I chose 'chicken liver and foie gras parfait with onion marmalade'. This was fine - the best part of it was the very nice salad which came with it. I suppose it was more of a garnish, really but it merits a mention as it was well dressed and consisted of a nice selection of leaves. The parfait was ok - perfectly edible but not scrumptious, and the onion marmalade could have been a bit more interesting and less gluey in consistency. It came with sliced baguette and probably should be served with some sort of toast - maybe brioche? But that would make it all much fussier and I'm not convinced that's the right direction for the Rocket to be zooming into. However, on with the food. But not before mentioning that service was efficient and friendly.

My other half was pleased with his 'warm goat cheese and slow cooked mushrooms on melba toast with raspberry dressing and mixed leaves salad' (£4.95). I was allowed a taste and wasn't sure about the mushroom, but the cheese was lovely. For his main course he had chosen 'Fillet steak with sauce bordelaise, foie gras and chips' - the priciest item on the menu at £15.50. His steak was small but the meat was excellent, nicely cooked and actually didn't need the sauce which was perfectly ok but surplus to requirements. And I was very jealous of his chips.

My 'Pan fried Sea Bass fillet with Meditteranean vegetable and crushed new potatoes' was perfectly edible, but left me completely underwhelmed. It arrived on an unadvertised - and most unwelcome - hovercraft cushion of pesto, upon which the vegetables were piled rather flatly with the fish on top. I'm not sure when it was pan fried, but it had suffered somewhere in the kitchen (re-heated in a microwave, perhaps?) and was more dessicated than anything else. It was also a tiny portion (for £13.50) and everything on the plate was completely overwhelmed by the pesto. I love pesto, but you really can't beat plain fish, well cooked and flavoured with lemon, maybe butter and subtle herb/s. I'm not pretending to be a good fish cook, but if you've fish on the menu you need to do much better than this. I felt a little crushed (like my new potatoes which were oddly flavoured with a little lemon) and more than a little disappointed.

Normally, I don't have room for dessert beyond maybe swiping a mouthful of someone else's, but I was still really hungry. It felt almost curmudgeonly to order Eton Mess in October, but it was on the menu (£4.50) and they were still selling strawberries at Acton Market last weekend. Or maybe it was the one before. In any case, my pud arrived in a chic cocktail glass. It consisted of whipped cream, some squashed meringue and some strawberry puree. And one (yes I am sure it was one because they left it whole) strawberry. I'm not saying it didn't taste ok, but I couldn't help feeling a little piqued. My other half has a thing about apple tart, so he chose 'cox's apple tart served with cinnamon ice cream' (£4.50). This was probably the final straw. The pastry was soggy, the apples tasteless, flabby and dull and there was nothing to redeem it.

Maybe I chose badly. I would like to think I did. But all I can say is that if I were trying to make a living serving food in a credit crunch, I would make an effort to keep it simple, offer unfussy food at unfussy prices with no fancy-pants foie gras, and keep overpowering hovercraft cushions away from my fishy dishes. I would also check out my successful competition.

Our bill came to £60.55. Pricy for Acton. This included two large (a third of a bottle each) glasses of a delicious Merlot and some sparkling water.

The pub in its newly done-up state is a great place to spend an evening. Maybe accompanied by a starter, some chips and some of that gorgeous wine. It has a five-star friendly atmosphere and some of the resident Actonians are even ready to banter: when I popped in to take a couple of photos, one of the men sitting at the bar turned and said: "I hope you're not putting me in that Gazette." I said that I wasn't but that the back of his head might appear on the local website. "Oh no," he said. "That's just as bad. My wife will be furious - I told her I was going down the synagogue."

Clare Gittins

October 25, 2008