There is no folly in eating here

The Folly
41 Gracechurch Street, EC3V 0BT
Tel: 0845 468 0102

FOOD
SERVICE
ATMOSPHERE

Cost per person without wine: £20

THE City, it appears, has been truly starved of a good, affordable restaurant/bar with funky design (yes, funky, rather than drab, formal, sticky or cafe-style). Because from the moment the Folly, the enormous, windowy multi-story venue on the corner of Gracechurch Street opened with a pounding launch party complete with heavily guarded doors, it has been rammed. Rammed morning, noon and night. I wanted to go on Friday but there wasn’t space – Monday lunchtime was the best I could get at short notice. Today, as we sat in the bustling (but not totally booked-up) restaurant, the manager told him the place books up entirely by Tuesday for the rest of the week and I believed him.

So what’s the appeal? It’s the sense that you’re in good hands. In the hands of absolute pros, actually; that every touch, from the real dripping candelabra on the tables to the herb pots wrapped in bits of the FT (good riddance) to the assertive, affordable Anglo-American menu to the staff are all part of a machine that functions and will continue to function well. After all, the group has proved itself before: the Folly’s owners are also behind the successful Anthologist on Gresham St, the Refinery in Southwark and Parlour in Canary Wharf.

I also think the City is thrilled to have a good bar: a good place to gather and people-watch. The manager reacted with firm distaste when I proposed the idea of a “meat market” but I’ve been to the Folly on both Thursday and Friday nights and it’s like a scene from 1980s boom-time Manhattan – girls holding Chardonnay glasses and Cosmos over here, guys over there downing beers, all watching each other with a mixture of lust and suspicion. An air of excitement certainly pervades.

But the Folly is keen on encouraging female business and has recognised the value of the female pound. In the City in particular, men can be predatory and sometimes distasteful, and as a woman it is easy to feel uncomfortable in its watering holes. And so they are wise to give the place a girly feel – from the white fur-lined rocking chairs and the floral, whimsical vibe (see the candles; globular lights, rosemary, and sale of flowers by the deli), to the frowning on meat-market behaviour.

Of course, at a Monday lunchtime, we were not there for a meat market. We were there for lunch.

Now, as with everything else, the Folly has its food credentials in order. Meat is sourced from Allens of Mayfair, fish from James Knight, also of Mayfair.

But bizarrely, neither the meat nor fish (well, shellfish – we didn’t try the fish) is particularly great. The Folly gets so much right, but the food is more of an aside than a main event. You can choose from great huge boards of antipasti, enormous pizza-style flatbreads, party-food style starters, sandwiches and burgers, mains and specials. Our lemongrass prawn lollipops were just big deep-fried prawns; likewise the crispy squid was deep fried, tasteless calimari. The pair of them left me feeling over-fried and a bit sick. Burgers come medium no matter what (you can request rare but they don’t ask you) and mine came with frosted tomatoes that had been on a too-cold shelf in the freezer. Jessica’s chicken was bland but fine. Other people’s sandwiches were defined by enormous hunks of bread (cheap) and plant pots of chips (cute). Desserts, though – wow. Big, decadent creamy things that come in martini glasses are the norm. The Tiramisu sundae was delicious in an obscene way, and we loved a dessert martini of vodka, honey cream, dark chocolate and chilli. “I’d just come for dessert,” concluded Jessica.

The Folly is a heaving, attractive and very welcoming spot and the result is a rather titillating ocean of City bodies eating, drinking and ogling. The genius lies in the fact that you can pick and choose what you want from it – from a casual dinner with friends to flowers to focaccia at the deli to picking up a date – and you’re probably going to enjoy whatever it is very much.