I should start this by saying I don’t normally review restaurants. In fact, this will be my first attempt so sorry if it’s not great, I’m just trying something new. Since opening a few weeks back, there have been mixed reviews of Derby’s new gourmet burger restaurant The Forge. Opened by seasoned (pun intended) restaurateur Brad Worley, The Forge promises great artisan burgers made from locally sourced, top quality ingredients served in a non-formal, relaxed atmosphere. Well that sounded just my cup of tea so I had to check it out.
We went on a Saturday night at about 8pm so as well as a test of how good the food was, it would also serve as something of a pressure test for the service, as it should have been about as busy as a restaurant should get.
We sat ourselves at one of the outdoor tables without having to wait but had to go up and get menus ourselves as these weren’t brought to us. While on the subject of menus, I should mention that more than a month after opening, The Forge has no online presence other than a Facebook page and even this (at the time of writing) does not have a link to an online menu or even any indication of what they serve. Anyway, more on that in a bit. My first impression of the atmosphere was that it was a little bit loud and creeping into the territory of being a bar, I just chalked this up to the fact it was a Saturday night… until my encounter with the bar tender.
After discovering that you had to go to the bar to order the food and drink I walked up placed my order. I had a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale but ordering this was not, in the slightest bit a pleasurable experience. The bar tender was going a million miles an hour and was recommending beers without any indication from me as to what kind of thing I liked. He recommended Erdinger and, when I stated that I wasn’t too fond of wheat beer, he recommended Goose Island 312… a wheat beer. As I said, he was going so fast it was as though we were in a busy night club, not a restaurant. When he finally did serve me the beer I ordered, he man-handled the bottles, sloshing the beer around, a definite no-no as it was a bottle conditioned beer. As a result, my glass was filled with sediment.
As for food, I ordered the Bacon Blues burger (bacon and blue cheese) and added avocado. For my side, I went for the Cajun spiced chips. The food came out relatively quickly and was presented well. One thing of note, my side order consisted of about 8 chips – not an exaggeration. Now I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity but come on, guys, that’s taking the piss a little bit. Despite the small portion, the chips were delicious. My burger was excellent as well; perfectly juicy and cooked medium-well (slightly over for my tastes but they got away with it). The brioche bun was fresh and soft and the sweetness worked really well with the saltiness of the bacon and blue cheese. Other people with our party had the classic with cheese on a ciabatta bun and that looked just as good.
The problems with the place don’t stem from the food (with the exception of them being a little tight with the chips), they stem from the confused front of house. If you want to be a “gourmet” grill, act as such. If you want to be a loud, bustling bar, be that. It’s one or the other. Making it both means that both crowds, especially diners, have a worse experience. If The Forge wants to last it needs to do a few simple things;
* Hire knowledgeable bar staff. The guy that served me should have known not to agitate a bottle conditioned beer or recommend a wheat beer seconds after I said I wasn’t keen on wheat beers.
* Be a restaurant. Having to order food at the bar is fine for Wetherspoons but if you’re selling yourself as “gourmet” you need to have waiter service. At least then, your waiters get the chance to impress and earn tips.
* Be more generous with the sides. Chips aren’t expensive and while I don’t mind paying £9+ for a good burger, I don’t expect to feel cheated on the sides.
* Have an online presence other than a rarely updated Facebook page. Have a website where people can see your menu. Have a Twitter account and post every single day.
Over all it wasn’t a terrible experience but if it wasn’t for the fact the burgers are just so good, and they really are, I doubt I’d go again.