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      27.07.2009 22:30
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      A different dinner

      Sarastro is probably one of the most bizarre eating experiences you are probably ever going to have, apart from a visit to Medieval Times - but then you've got to visit the madness of America to do that. Sarastro is about as strange and as camp an experience as you are going to get in the UK, unless you are invited to one of Elton John's famous masked balls. Why is it so strange then? Well, one step into Sarastro and you are greeted by an ambience reminiscent of an opera house. The walls and ceiling are decked with ornamental flowers, gold and silver drapes and garish paintings.

      It is so totally over the top you have to slap yourself to bring yourself back to planet earth. It's kind of like a harem - almost like the kind you might see in a Carry On film, but then it is slap down in the middle of Drury Lane. It's dubbed the 'show after the show' for good reason - its an experience you are unlikely to forget for some time.

      Sarastro's menu is equally elegant and over the top. Its posh nosh with most dinners costing the nest part of twenty pounds, but then being my birthday we decided to splash out. I had 'Gravalax' as a starter. I had visions of the 'lax' part of this meal to come back later and haunt me, however it was nice and ended up just being a salmon salad. Sarah had lentil soup, which she said was delicious. Added to the meal we also had a plate of breads, some unpitted olives and some chilli sauce for dipping.

      For mains I went for the seafood tagllieteli, Sarah went for the chicken stir-fry. My taglietteli was really well done and contained prawns, mussels and squid in a tomato sauce. It was delicious and very filling. Sarah's chicken was well done, and was also very filling. Both well fed and watered we could then go out and see our show.

      The music is also worth mentioning as well, the place was filled with the warbling strains of Pavarotti and chums and was turned up whenever Nessun Dorma came on. A small acoustic band, similar to that of the Patagonians from the Fast Show came in halfway through as well which was a little annoying - especially when they came round for tips.

      There are quite a few negative comments on this site about this place and yes, it isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea. The price of the food might be a little steep, but then I suppose you are also paying for the ambience of the place. It seemed very popular when we were there - and that was quite early - around 5:30. I also found the drinks quite expensive, my half pint of 'Efes' lager cost around £3.50.

      The trip to the toilet was also quite an experience. The walls of the gents (and the ladies according to Sarah) were daubed with erotic paintings that left nothing to the imagination. Images of a sexual nature - including that of an 'oral' nature, were painted graphically on the walls as you stood peeing. Great! Might not be a place to take your mother.

      I enjoyed my experience at Sarastro, theres nothing like stepping out of your comfort zone, why do everything the same all the time?

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        29.08.2006 14:38
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        Poor food and service can hardly be offset by an interesting decor.

        Back In January, one of my fiancé's colleagues recommended Sarastro to us as a nice restaurant for our anniversary. He said that Sarastro boasted both a romantic atmosphere and a vast selection of delicious seafood on its menu. As we approached the establishment, however, which is located just off Covent Garden in Drury Lane, we started to have our doubts. It looked a little bit too hidden. While the menu looked alright, a peak inside through the glass doors have us the impression that it was a little to "kitsch" for our liking. We walked away without entering and went elsewhere. A couple of weeks ago, however, we were in the mood for some adventure and decided to give it a try. How we wish we had followed our first instincts!


        ***The history***

        The restaurant was opened in 1996. It was created and designed by artist and international designer Richard "Salim" Sleeman who was responsible for creating a Turkish bath and art gallery in Southern Spain. It was his idea to place contemporary items and period art all around the restaurant to give it a unique and flamboyant feel.

        Sarastro was named after one of the characters of Mozart's "The Magic Flute".


        ***Ambience and décor***

        The restaurant looked a lot more inviting from the outside in the summer than it did during the grey winter months. Sarastro is decorated with lovely colourful flowers on the outside, giving it a spring-type and refreshing feel. We approached and entered the restaurant without actually checking the menu again.

        The impression that Sarastro is a little "kitsch" was instantly confirmed as we entered. The place is dominated by tones of shimmering gold and red, giving it a mix of a medieval and opera house feel. We were greeted by a host who asked us how many people were in our party and then quickly waved over his colleague to lead us to a table.

        In terms of the layout, Sarastro sports a "cubicle-type" setting, giving the diners a feel of intimacy - as long as the restaurant is not overcrowded. In the middle, they have a long wooden table, which is intended for large parties. Some of the little cubicles (or opera boxes) include two tables for parties of two - and in fact, the waitress initially intended to seat us next to another couple, until we looked at her with disapproval and she sat us elsewhere. This turned out to be a good move on our part, as the other couple proceeded to chain smoke throughout the meal - indicating clearly that Sarastro either has not moved into the 21st century and to segregating smokers from non-smokers or that they were too ignorant to actually ask where we would like to be seated.

        Initially, we were a little impressed with the setting. Each opera box has lovely colourful satin table clothes and a funky satin napkin, which the waitresses will place over your lap. You kind of feel like you are in an ancient, stationary coach. However, the seating arrangements are not particularly comfortable and certainly are not very accessible to elderly customers. The bench is hard and set too low and the table is consequently so high that you feel that you are drowning.

        As this venue is intended to be frequented by theatre and opera lovers, the music is clearly operatic in style. At first it did not really register with us, but as the evening went on, we found it too loud and too intrusive.


        ***The menu***

        I was actually very impressed with the menu, which indeed sported a number of interesting seafood and fish dishes as well as some interesting pastas, salads and meats, such as lamb. I had a really difficult time deciding on what to eat. I was seriously torn between the Big Boss Seafood Selection, the Lobster Salad and the Roast Duck with Orange Sauce. In the end, being that I love seafood, I opted for the Big Boss Seafood Selection at £14.50. My other half fancied the Mediterranean Prawns at £12.50.

        We also ordered a side of mixed vegetables and a side of boiled potatoes to complement our meal at a price of £3.50 each. However, to watch our waistlines and our wallets, we decided to skip the starters. Sarastro has a number of starters on its menu, ranging in prices from £4 to £8.50. Items include asparagus, humous, grilled Cyprus cheese, fried mussels, smoked salmon, grilled sardines, soup of the day and smaller versions of the Big Boss Seafood Selection or Mediterranean Prawns.

        The dessert menu also looked delightful offering chocolate cake, crème di brulee, lemon tart or a cheese selection.

        For wine lovers, Sarastro offers a wide selection over 50 wines.


        ***Our experience***

        Initially, we were quite happy at Sarastro. The menu looked good, although slightly on the expensive side. Shortly after we sat down, we were brought a basket of pita bread and a plate of carrots and olives to nibble on. On the table, there was a fancy looking dip, but we eyed this with some suspicion as it had been there before our arrival and did not look like it was freshly made. We therefore opted to eat the pita without dip - and it was cold, hard and too salty for our liking. The plate of carrot sticks, however, came in very handy and was instantly devoured by us.

        The waitresses seemed to be alright and happy enough to help - until we ordered water instead of wine, at which point the friendliness, attentiveness and service went down a level. I suppose skipping the starter only made matters a little worse.

        The food did not take too long to arrive. I think we probably waited under 30 minutes, but as we were distracted with nibbles, this passed rather quickly. We just instantly started feeling out of place, as we could neither appreciate the musical background nor did the décor leave a lasting impression to hold up our enjoyment levels. My fiancé commented at some stage that this was probably the type of establishment that is best enjoyed drunk - but neither one of us drinks alcohol, so we could not vouch for that.

        I actually was visually delighted when the food came out. My fiancé's prawns very quite large, came with their heads on and were beautifully presented on a bed of lettuce. I instantly knew, however, that it would not be enough food for him. My Big Boss Seafood Selection, which essentially consisted of small prawns, mussels and squid, looked a little less exciting with a small portion of rice on the side and drowned in a white sauce. I had kind of been hoping for scallops in the seafood mêlée, but as the menu did not specify the types of sea creatures that would visit my plate, I could not really complain.

        The side orders of vegetables did not pretend to be anything fancy - the potatoes were indeed only boiled with their skin on and the mixed vegetables consisted of carrots, beans and sugar snap peas, merely chucked into a bowl without presentation style. Indeed, the side orders turned out to be a real disappointed - the potatoes being served in a bowl that still contained water and the vegetables having been drowned in so much vinegar that they did not taste of themselves but rather very sour.

        I did not dislike my seafood selection, the white sauce was very creamy and rich and the portion reasonably generous. However, there were a few too many mussels for my liking - it certainly was not well-balanced. Most mussels came without their shell, but one was served in a broken shell and tasted slightly off to me. After a while, the richness of the sauce made me feel slightly nauseous and as it was occasionally difficult to distinguish between onions and squid, I felt myself chewing on one of my most-hated vegetables from time to time.

        My other half found his prawns to satisfaction, however, he said that they were mere garlic shrimp and not at all worth the steep price tag attached to them.

        Originally, I had my eyes set on the crème di brulee as a dessert, but after the disappointing "free" snacks and the mediocre main courses, we decided that it certainly was not worth incurring further cost. By this time, the operatic music was also doing our heads in, so it was time to go - after a quick trip to the washrooms.

        In a tacky and kitsch restaurant such as this, we thought that the restaurant would have interesting washrooms. In fact, I found that they were rather uncomfortable and dirty and that they felt like a washroom trailer at a rock concert. The walls were decorated with tasteless pornographic art, in-between which various former restaurant customers left little notes, such as undying declarations of love.

        On my way back to the restaurant, I was able to sneak a peak into the kitchen. I certainly did not like what I saw. It somehow did not look hygienic to me - and especially the huge plastic tub filled with brown sauce and what appeared to be lamb pieces, really put me off ever wanting to eat here again.

        The shock of the day was receiving the bill, which actually came to £47 for two main meals, a bottle of water, a coke and the service charge (which is added to the bill).


        ***The verdict***

        We certainly will not visit this restaurant again, as after an initial moment of awe at the kitsch décor, Sarastro has very little to offer its customers. Service was poor, smokers did not appear to be segregated from non-smokers, seating was uncomfortable and claustrophobic - and the food, frankly, a disappointment and overpriced. Unless you are a real fan of kitsch and opera, you would be better off getting front row tickets to a superb performance and spending your food budget at Loch Fyne around the corner.


        ***Further information***

        Sarastro Restaurant
        126 Drury Lane
        TheatreLand
        London
        WC2B 5QG

        Telephone: +44 (0)20 7836 0101
        Fax: +44 (0)20 7379 4666

        www.sarastro-restaurant.com

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          21.03.2003 03:48
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          The first time I visited Sarastro (years ago now) I was blown away by its stunning interior and music, and have been talking about returning ever since (so I can understand the very positive reviews I have been reading). However, on recently making my way back there with my boyfriend, our experience was very different! The scenery is still wonderful, but I wouldn't rave about the food. However the terribly organised service was what really appalled us. The surplus of staff was immediately apparent, and their strange over-attentiveness ruined our evening! We were repeatedly asked the same things again and again by different members of staff. It became so bad during our first course, that we could barely eat or have a conversation ourselves without being constantly interrupted, being asked if we were finished even while we were still eating. When a third waiter came to try and take a plate and we said "no thank you we're fine", he laughed loudly saying "What?", while playing a kind of tug of war with the plate! This was almost the last straw, and if the main course hadn't had arrived so quickly we would've asked for the bill at that point. The remainder of the evening proceeded similarly and left us stunned and irritated. I attempted to make our displeasure known to an important-looking man on the door, but he clearly did not understand English. So, I sent them a rather strong, yet polite letter of complaint. A day later I received an umbelievable response: ME So SOLLY ME THOUSAND YEAR VELLY SOLLY NO SPEAKY ANGLISH Immediately it comes across as a hoax, but even if it isn't, I am astounded by the unprofessionalism of this well-known London restaurant! Reading it again leaves me unable to comment further!

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            15.12.2000 20:20
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            If you find yourself in the London Covent Garden and Theatreland area, and in need of a good meal, you could do far worse than pop down to Sarastro. This Turkish Restaurant is innocuously tucked away on a corner of Drury Lane. Stepping through the door is like stepping into Narnia – the warmth and colour is a wonderful contrast to the cold, grey city… The décor in the restaurant is reminiscent of a sort of Turkish Harem – lots of drapes and cushions, with many statues and pictures from around the times of the crusades – here and there are evidence of other styles such as Gothic or Old English. At one end is a massive treasure trove. Along the walls are ‘Opera box’ booths, both at ground level and raised, the latter providing a great view of the entire restaurant for the diners. We were in the largest of these raised tables – the ‘Royal box’, above the treasure trove, and although a tight fit for 13 of us, it really was rather comfortable. The staff are lovely – not so much waiters/waitresses as hosts – it is likely that you will receive the attentions of more than one, who despite the fact that not all are brilliant at English, will really make you feel comfortable. As our group had gone to Sarastro for our Christmas meal, we had the fixed menu. Starter was traditional Turkish fare (most of which I cannot remember the names of – my Turkish is poor) – stuffed vine leaves, cheese pastries, chopped veg, peppers, all with various dips...and absolutely scrumptious it was too! Servings were generous, and most present wondered whether they would be able to last to main course... Main course (of which there was a choice of Turkey (the bird, not a Turk), Duck, Salmon or Vegetarian) was, I reckon, not the usual style of main course for Sarastro – although tasty, it was a bit standard and unoriginal. They did serve couscous instead of carrots
            though! If you go, I would opt for more traditional Turkish fare... Nonetheless it was well cooked and presented, and helpings were adequate. Pudding consisted of fruit or Turkish sweetmeats – of which I couldn’t get enough, polishing off my own as well as other peoples’ :) The entire meal cost around £50 per head, including a vast amount of booze (and not cheap plonk either!) which left most of us in a fuzzy way. Although not the cheapest of meals, it isn’t too bad for London. Although nice, the food was not the greatest ever (again, I’d stick to the Turkish menu), but the ambience, style and friendliness of the place certainly made the meal good value. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would advise anyone to go along. One thing you must do...check out the décor in the gent’s toilet (whether or not you are a gent)... if you are lucky the Deputy Manager will give you a guided tour. I won’t disclose any more, but just don’t forget your camera.

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