Brockley Central is pleasantly surprised that it can still walk into a restaurant and actually lower the average age of the clientele. Anyone (well anyone with their own teeth) wanting the same experience should get themselves down the appropriately named Old Bank a few doors down from Honor Oak Park station. If you're after culinary fireworks, though, you might want to eat before you go.
True to its presumably security-conscious roots, getting in to The Old Bank is no easy feat. Don't be fooled by the relatively welcoming glass door on the corner. The one next to the menu display. The one that turns out to be locked. Head instead for the mildly imposing unmarked door down the way. The one that looks like the service entrance. The one that takes you straight into the open kitchen and all its secrets. So far so odd.
Once inside you're treated to a dark but pleasant enough space. All deep red walls, hard surfaces and Italian muzak. Inoffensive, but a little bit tatty around the edges. Same goes for the decor.
The menu is unapologetically standard Italian. Nothing wrong with that. A long list of starters features such perennials as melon and Parma ham, bruschetta and whitebait. Mains include fegato, pork belly and a good range of pasta options that ensures veggies are well catered for.
Olives were good and salty, bread dense and a little dry (no butter or oil proffered). Calamari were accurately, almost greaselessly, fried: a good sign, although given the lack of crowds (just two other tables occupied, mainly by folks who will probably be attending tonight's silver surfer event) it's hard to believe they didn't come out of the freezer. Bruschetta came bedecked with a hearty volume of decent tomatoes but was let down by overenthusiastic quantities of raw garlic.
Mains included a special of commendably seasonal pheasant with savoy cabbage and a "red wine jus". Half a bird came ready-jointed and sitting on top of a pile of cabbage that was weirdly far hotter than the rest of the dish. The sauce turned out not to be the intense liquor suggested by the description but a starchy gravy that infused the dish with a not completely pleasant mild sweetness. The bird itself was patchy: the breast overcooked to dryness, the leg dense, meaty, moist and satisfying. Just a shame the rest of the dish couldn't match it.
Gnocchi (hard to tell if they were made in-house) came in a soupy, strangely orange, tomato and goats cheese sauce. Not unpleasant but not brilliant either: a smaller volume of a more confident sauce would have worked far better.
Other bits and pieces... The staff were friendly but not always fully engaged: over enthusiastic when topping up glasses but neglecting to inform us of missing menu items. The wine list is short and good value: we had a decent Gavi di Gavi for £22.50. Happy to report the obligatory huge pepper mill was very much in attendance. Espressos were not good.
Overall, there was nothing particularly wrong with The Old Bank but when you begin to engage in inevitable comparisons with Le Querce, the other "standard" Italian in the neighbourhood, the cracks really begin to appear. On paper, apart from Le Querce's pizzas, the two places are offering a very similar experience; the reality is very different. Le Querce isn't perfect (specials often seemed to be accompanied by whatever random veg the chef has found at the back of the fridge, and frankly Brockley Central gets enough of that at home) but it exhibits levels of enthusiasm, warmth, passion for ingredients, freshness, home-made ice cream and free limoncello that are all sadly lacking at The Old Bank.
In short, "not unpleasant but not brilliant either" is a fair summary of The Old Bank. A standard Italian dishing up a standard Italian menu really has nowhere to hide. Except perhaps behind an anonymous white door in Honor Oak Park.