Is Kingsway the most functional eating street in London? It has all the chains in a relentlessly mid-range bracket and in the mid-range of the mid-range sits Bill’s. Bill’s I think has some kind of history attached which means than technically it’s no longer Bill’s (or at least not the chainy bit) but someone else’s. But ‘Someone Else’s’ wouldn’t be such a snappy name as ‘Bill’s’ would it? So I reckon whoever bought the right to Bill’s (Hedge fund? Lottery winner? Shadowy drug cartel? I could find out but life’s too short to worry about such things as long as it isn’t O****r. But then why would he purchase the ‘Bill’s’ name when he has a name of his own to push.*).
So yes, Bill’s. A safe bet on the food front covering as it does a gamut of bases from your carnivore to your vegan, from your lactose intolerant to your gluten free. Some sections of the menu read like the key to an Ordnance Survey map with the cutest symbol not referring to dietary requirements but rather to Bill’s Heritage items. Which made me sigh.
But still they wouldn’t be there unless the marketing people hadn’t drilled down precisely into how much extra spend they would get out of pitching 10% of the food to the kind of people who think, ‘Hmmm, I was going to have the sea bass until I saw that the felafel burger was one of the original lines sold in Bill’s back in the day when Bill’s was Bill’s rather than someone else’s so I’ll have that instead.’
Which cynicism on my part makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy Bill’s. I did. Putting aside the guff around the faff the product is solidly reliable. A good range of food executed well in a pleasant room with good service. Not everywhere manages to do one of those things let alone all four. My fillet steak was tender enough but had a little too much fat around the edge for my liking. Although this was forgivable as it came in at around half the price of say Hawksmoor’s steak. With a decent glass of Merlot for a fiver I had no complaints when it came to coughing up the cash. And the atmosphere was calm – enough room between the tables to not feel hedged in and the music pitched at the right volume to allow for normal conversation.
It just seemed that the package as a whole was the exact opposite of the vibe that they’re trying to sell. And they’re trying to sell a lot – food to eat (breakfast, lunch and dinner), food to take home, aprons, in fact anything that isn’t nailed down seems to be for sale. Well, not the staff I’m sure. Which kind of makes it difficult to take Bill’s seriously as a happy go lucky, stretch out and relax kind of place. You can’t repackage an atmosphere as a heritage item, as anyone who’s been to Beamish would know.
*Prick’s, in case you were wondering.
To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).