October 10, 2011 cocktail bar, seafood, West End 1 Comment
Blythe’s Verdict
Sunday evening, dinner for six, friends converging on the fashionable West End; how far could you possibly go wrong?

Well, the answer is ‘not far’, but that masks an inner turmoil into which the place threw me. Sygn, in Charlotte Lane, poses three major questions, of different natures, that made me reflect on our quests, to date:

o Why do all/most bars seem to feel compelled to serve food?

o Is it right to give an outright bad write-up to a place that has some very nice qualities, although its food service isn’t good?

o When you have a lovely time in a place, although the fare you’re served isn’t great, how do you factor that in?

I’m getting ahead of myself. I arrived at Sygn for this late quest to be greeted by the ever prompt MJ, along with Susie and Tracey, who had previously quested with us in Amore Dogs. We were soon joined by Lunch Quest: Istanbul’s Mina and Patrick, over on a visit to the LQ mothership.

Sygn is a smart cocktail bar in the West End. On Fridays, it can be a seething mass of bodies, as hard working stiffs start their weekends with a cosmo or a mojito. I am to be found there, on occasion, usually when I’m on the all-mint diet.

They generally designate the left half of the place as their dining area, and it was at one of their long bench tables that the six of us were seated.

Menus awaited us on the table. Here’s where I ran in to my first problem: the menu is a train-wreck. It’s just so ridiculously layed-out. I should have taken a photo, so you could see for yourself. Groups of dishes are splodged in various corners of it. There seems no rhyme nor reason to what they have on offer. There’s simply no sense of what they might actually want you to order. MJ ordered bread as a group starter, while we turned our attention to the main courses.

Bread starter

I ended up opting for the sea bass, which struck me as a fairly safe choice. I didn’t exactly see what Susie ordered, although it looked like it involved mussels, Tracey tried to order the cajun squid and sweet potato chips, but the squid didn’t happen so she went for a Caesar salad, Mina had the crispy gnocchi, MJ the salmon, and Patrick the burger. So, we had a broad range of dishes to help us come to a view about the place.

Sea Bass

Our dishes arrived promptly, and there was a fairly general consensus that Mina’s looked the best. My dish didn’t work at all. What we had was two small sea bass fillets on a bed of cubed potatoes, mixed olives, immersed in thick tomato-based sauce. The fish was overdone, with the skin far too crispy. The potatoes weren’t exactly undercooked, but they were entirely too firm. The olives were extraordinarily over-abundant, and one of them still had the stone in it, which wasn’t a clever move. The sauce was way too think, with a really nasty viscosity that would have worked well for a thick custard, but not in this setting. It lacked flavour, too. It was another train-wreck, basically.

Caesar Salad

And so to the questions, with which we started. The bottom line is that this place, like some other bars in the neighbourhood (I remember an absolute horror show of a dinner I once had in Indigo Yard) shouldn’t serve food. Period. I don’t believe that the folks running the place really want to serve food. They want to run a chic cocktail bar, but feel strangely compelled to offer food. It shows, and the whole menu screams of a total lack of commitment. It does nobody any favours. Diners are given a poor impression of what is a very nice set-up, the chef can’t possibly enjoy cooking this curious melange of dishes, and it doesn’t look like the staff particularly enjoy serving it up.

Burger and Chips with a random jar of stuff

Having said this, Sygn is a smart place where I would (and will) go back, so delivering this relative trashing feels a little uncomfortable. We ran in to this with Divino, as well. Both are lovely places for a drink, but total disasters in terms of food. I figure we have to be true to what we’re presented with and make sure that the narrative of our review points up where the opportunities are for the venues to improve. For both Sygn and Divino, the message is clear: keep serving your lovely drinks (and perhaps re-focus on providing a great nibbles menu); but stop serving food, immediately.

And with our third question, it’s clear that you can have a great evening without being served great food. Mina was very happy with her gnocchi, which did look good, and the sweet potato chips were good, but everything else was underwhelming to varying degrees. In an earlier review, MJ and I had a particularly enjoyable lunch at Loudons. The place was lovely and it sticks in the mind as being a particularly enjoyable quest. But I thought the food was pretty ordinary, and reflected it in my scores. There is something to be said for scoring the setting generously if it puts you at your ease, but beyond that I’m still not sure quite how you strike the right balance. We’re realtively new at the questing malarkey, after all, so we’ll improve with time and experience.


Overall, we had a lovely evening at Sygn, and it really made me think about how to review places that have obvious strengths and weaknesses, so I thank it for that. But I just can’t get past the fact that the food was not good. I suggest you go there for cocktails, but eat elsewhere.

MJ’s Verdict

On Sunday we met with the Lunchquest Istanbul team and some lovely dear friends and had diner at Sygn. Now, I’ve been there once before, on my birthday with the same group of people. I remember the food being good, but nothing special. I’m now inclined to believe that may have been the pink Brut talking.
This time, the ambience was the same: sleek and cool, a cocktail bar that happened to serve food as well. We sat at the long table to the left of the main entrance on benches that reminded our companions of school-days. We chatted and generally caught up and then ordered mains with no starters.
A bit later the food arrived. S’s food arrived first, a king prawn and mussel pasta in a cast iron skillet, and I admit that I had food envy, but she said that it looked better than it tasted and that she didn’t eat the mussels because they tasted a bit off.
Next the creamy gnocchi arrived for Mina, it looked beautiful and was generally accepted to be the best ordering choice of the night, even though it looked a tad heavy for my tastes. B got the sea bass, which I have had before, but remember nothing about, Patrick got the burger, which he said nothing of, and T ordered a salad and sweet potato wedges, which might have been the single best item on the table.
My pan roasted salmon was a good piece of fish, but it was dry and sitting on top a pile of rocket and some cut up beetroot. No dressing, no sauces… I don’t even think I asked for anything weird this time… the whole thing could have used some seasoning and a dressing of some sort. A balsamic maybe?
Pan roasted Salmon
I also ordered some bread and evoo and balsamic for the table… it was average at best. The balsamic was the standard off the shelf type as was the evoo. And the bread not better than Tesco’s own and was toasted…I am always wary of toasted bread at a restaurant. It often means it was not made freshly that day and they have toasted it to cover the fact.
Overall, I loved the water. The fragrant and fruity glass vessels that are all but impossible to pour without spilling are great. I drank more water than I have in while and I’d happily return for a drink and some water, but will try to eat elsewhere before I arrive.


Out of 20, Blythe scores Sygn:
2/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
2/5 for service
3/5 for setting
giving an overall 10/20

Out of 20, MJ scores Sygn:
2/5 for food
3/5 for presentation
2/5 for service
3/5 for setting
giving an overall 10/20

Today’s late Lunch Questers were: MJ, Susie, Tracey, Mina, Patrick, Blythe
We ate: sea bass, mussels, Caesar salad, sweet potato chips, crispy gnocchi, salmon, burger.

We drank: fruit infused water, lager, sparkly pink wine, red wine, coffees, peppermint tea.

We wore: stylish steel rimmed glasses, black top with neat buttoning, vigorously galloping pony pendant, rose gold and diamond chain, Hilfiger polo, two-tone brogues.

Sygn on Urbanspoon

Written by TheDudley