I HAD heard on the grapevine that DV8, Groombridge, was closing at the end of July, but â€“â€“ driving in the area on another assignment â€“â€“ something made me check the place six days earlier.
Iâ€™m glad I did, because Sunday July 26 marked the last dayâ€™s trading of the popular steakhouse and family restaurant â€œfor some timeâ€.
Apparently the whole shopping complex is to be demolished and will, hopefully, re-open by December â€œat the latestâ€. There will be a place in the re-development for a restaurant which, again â€œhopefullyâ€, will be DV8.
Pardon my cynicism, but we â€œmenuologistsâ€ have heard this sort of stuff before!
Candidly, DV8 (deviate, geddit?: you had to deviate there, as it was at the back of beyond for most folk!) might well have shut earlier, for what trade they did on the final day.
Dismal depression was tangible. There were two family tables and two of singletons when I arrived.Â Until fairly recently, it would have been foolish to go without a confirmed booking for the outletâ€™s trademark steaks or traditional English-type roast-joint Sunday lunches with all relevant trimmings.
Worryingly, one of the two family tables was periodically rocked by hoarse coughing, sneezing and streaming noses being blown off-puttingly noisily.
Apart from that being an appetite depressant, thereâ€™s much debilitating flu going around. No one whom I know has had it identified as the swine flu pandemic, or otherwise, as I donâ€™t know anyone who can nowadays afford a quack or even medical aid! Not being the worldâ€™s most patient patient, I was glad the snuffles and sneezes (and germs!) were several tables away.
Proprietor James Davies wasnâ€™t there. Heâ€™d allegedly â€œpopped outâ€ for a few minutes just before I arrived out of the blue. I was there 87 minutes; he didnâ€™t â€œpop-backâ€.
The very second lunch was over, staff were to start stripping the mock half-beamed place of its probably politically very incorrect framed monochrome pioneer era prints and copper wall hangings, stoves, fridges, crockery, cutlery etc, as the tenants had to be physically out of the premises by month end, not merely cease trading then.
Waiter Admire, who used to be at the New Club, glumly admitted many menu items just werenâ€™t available. Fairâ€™s fair, no one expects a restaurant with mere days left to replace expensive ingredients.
This was a business closing under duress after 18 yearsâ€™ popular support, but, paradoxically, it offered more choice than another place visited recently, which had re-opened only nine days earlier.
The dark, sad mood wasnâ€™t improved when Admire questioned me about New Club members heâ€™d served. The first five mentioned, led by my good friends Air Vice-Marshal Ian Harvey and â€œBloodyâ€ Mary Cosgrove, were dead!
DV8 didnâ€™t have soup, nor did it serve the trademark wholemeal home-baked breads with flavoured butters I loved. Far too filling, they were totally irresistible!
I had deep-fried crumbed mushrooms: six, varying in size from tiny â€œbuttonâ€ jobs, to field-fungi: forest fresh and flavoursome, piping hot with tartare sauce and salad garnish.
For such an under-patronised eatery and bearing in mind the noise coming from the kitchen (as if scores of cooks and helpers bellowed at one another at about Strength 15!), service wasnâ€™t exactly swift. I had a 2:15 appointment, but it was almost 2:30 before I got away. They had none of the T-bones which used to be big, thick, juicy, tender (and bloody if you wanted), with much nyama on the fillet side.
DV8â€™s motto was Steaks To Leave Home For. Slightly OTT, but the graze was usually very, very good!Â Sadly the coughersâ€™ and sneezersâ€™ patriarch had apparently ordered the last T-bone seconds before me and there was no sirloin, my second choice.
Fillet steak is never the best cut for flavour, but, this fine specimenâ€™s natural taste tweaked by a thick, slightly peppery, creamy mushroom sauce, was a fitting memorial of the many meals I have eaten at DV8. My in-laws lived close by and meat-starved relatives from overseas always asked to be taken there (or Feathers Carvery, Mabelreign, now also, sadly, shut.)
What this particular fillet may have missed in flavour and savour was more than made up by tenderness and texture. (Whoever bought the meat there knew his stuff, and his butchers, and a thing or two about properly hanging nyama.)
It was melt-in-the mouth delightful, with a lovely sauce, a big, jacketed baked potato withÂ Â butter (no sour cream and chives â€œonâ€) with acceptable sliced courgettes and carrots onÂ a scalding black cast iron platter, keeping food hot to the last bite.
I waited ages for apple crumble which, oddly, came in a too-hot-to-touch bowl, but no one had micro-wave nuked the tooth-numbing fridge-cold sweet. Unusual, but pleasant after reaching room temperature and as, I suppose, all the workers were about to join the ranks of Zimbabweâ€™s unemployed millions, slight lack of attention to detail wasnâ€™t totally unexpected.
With two local Castle lagers, the bill was $23,50.
IÂ hope DV8 re-opens after Groombridge is expensively re-groomed for the 21st century (or they do so elsewhere) and trust itâ€™s as smoothly and professionally run as it once was. (And as relatively reasonably priced.)
BY DUSTY MILLER