Dining

Review: Argyll

October 2010

2.5 out of 4 stars
Food: 3 stars
Service: 1 star 
Ambience: 2.5 stars
2700 E. Third Ave., 720-382-1117, argyllpub.com

 

The Draw A diverse burgers-to-duck-breast menu served in a relaxed pub environment; a solid list of European beers and single-malt Scotches.

The Drawback The service ranges from merely adequate to astonishingly bad.

Don’t Miss Scotch egg, pork belly, shrimp MacCheese, Maple Leaf Farms duck, strawberry-rhubarb verrine.

Price $$$ (average entrée price $18)

In college, I envied the drama majors—those quirky, confident types who could switch from cockney Eliza in Pygmalion to scheming Lady Macbeth with just the flip of a scarf or a tilt of the head. As a timid journalist more comfortable behind a notebook, I lacked the confidence necessary to create such convincing fiction.

I think of plays and actors when I think of restaurants because all restaurants, in one way or another, are performing for their guests. They entertain. They edify. They provide escape. And when done well, they—like a Shaw or a Shakespeare—introduce their audience to parts of the world that may be unfamiliar to them. 

And so it goes with Argyll in Cherry Creek. On the surface, Argyll appears to be what it claims: a Scottish pub. There is an old-style Britishness about the place—in the distressed tabletops, the plaid seat cushions, the chalkboard list of events and facts. In reality, Argyll hosts three stage sets, each projecting a different vibe. There’s an outdoor patio with a burbling fountain; a dark, wood-paneled tap room with red leather seating; and a brighter, cafe-style space with walls of wine bottle–lined shelves. Depending on your mood—and where you’re seated—the Argyll play, on any given night, can be relaxed, rarified, or raucous. And somehow, it all works.

So does Argyll’s gastropub menu. 

I know. Gastropub. We can probably all agree it’s a terrible term. But the gastropub phenomenon—which started in England about 20 years ago when pub owners finally realized that truly good food, as opposed to, say, fish-paste sandwiches, might attract more customers—is here to stay. In creating Argyll, owner Robert Thompson, previously associated with Brasserie Rouge, B-52 Billiards, and the Atomic Cowboy, joined forces with executive chef Sergio Romero, and together they have created a diverse menu that offers something for everybody. 

If you’re looking for standard pub fare, try the Scotch egg, a warm, soft-boiled egg wrapped in a spicy fennely sausage and deep-fried to a nice crunchiness. If you haven’t had one before, the combination may sound odd—but it’s like having everything you like best about breakfast in one spoonful. Another winner: the comforting and steaming-hot chicken pot pie, an enormous bowl of confit chicken swimming in a creamy béchamel with chunks of potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, all topped with a not-too-thick, flaky pie crust. This is an eat-half-and-take-the-rest-home dish. Although the cream sauce could use a few more herbs to punch up the flavor, the overall effect is still satisfying. 

Argyll also offers the expected fish and chips. The night I ordered them, the fish was fresh and flaky, but the panko-crumb coating tasted as if it had been fried in oil that hadn’t been changed in days, and the chips were stale facsimiles of fresh fries. The shrimp MacCheese (“Mac”—it’s Scottish; get it?), is a much better choice if you’re looking for something filling but not fussy. Like the pot pie, Argyll’s mac and cheese is enormous, and it transcends the typical with the use of round, ribbed rigatoni noodles and the addition of salty bacon, tiny green peas, cremini mushrooms, fresh shrimp, and five cheeses. Think thick. Think filling. Think of sharing.

Argyll is at its best when it deviates from traditional pub fare. From the top of the menu, try the pork belly, a two-inch-thick cube of succulent pork served atop a sweet tuber purée and alongside bitter mustard greens. Farther down, opt for the plump mussels, served Indian-style with creamy coconut milk and spicy red curry—a hot and soupy combination that you’ll sop up with the accompanying slices of grilled bread. If you’re feeling a little fancy, go for the Maple Leaf Farms duck, where slices of juicy, medium-rare duck are served with sweet-tart balsamic cherries, earthy butternut squash purée, caramelized figs, and walnuts. This is the kind of elegant, multiflavored dish Eliza Doolittle would have ordered after Henry Higgins got hold of her.

Desserts are also nicely executed. My favorite: the strawberry-rhubarb verrine. Served in a clear jelly jar, the dish combines small chunks of strawberry and rhubarb in a citrusy sauce that causes the rhubarb to effervesce, giving the fruit a tongue-surprising fizziness. The zingy fruit is then topped with a soothing lime mascarpone mousse and crunchy bits of toasted pistachio.

In short, Argyll is a place where the kitchen staff knows its role and how to execute it. Where the production falls apart is in the service. I’ve been to Argyll many times and have been shocked at how consistently inconsistent the service is. Here, your wine order will be forgotten, not once but twice during the same meal. You might have to ask for napkins and silverware. Your fish and chips will not merely be set on the table—they’ll be thrown down in a rush, causing two-thirds of the dish to end up on the tabletop.

Then, you’ll have to ask for a replacement because the server will neglect to offer. As you wait, another server will drop a round of drinks onto the nearby patio, sending ice, liquid, and glass flying about. By the end of the meal, you’ll be so frustrated by the service you will have forgotten how good the food was. Then, you’ll be brought another table’s tab.

Any one of these missteps could be forgiven on any given night. But when put together night after night, it becomes clear there is a serious lack of finesse in the front of the house. If Argyll were a stage play, it would be one in which the script and set design were close to perfect, but the actors needed several more weeks of rehearsal. 

My hope is that Thompson can find a way to pull it all together because there’s so much to like about this place. If he can, Argyll will be making curtain calls for many years to come.