Damien Hirst's Pharmacy Is Back: Review
When Damien Hirst and PR honcho Matthew Freud opened the original Pharmacy restaurant in the 90s, it was perfectly timed. Hirst was the face of British art, the place was immediately packed with celebs and it was pitched as a chance to really be a part of something.
Things started to turn sour when the Royal Pharmaceutical Society waded in with the rulebook, making noises about the place looking too much like the real deal. Other problems bubbled behind closed doors, eventually combining to create what was widely acknowledged as a pretty crappy, tired looking restaurant that no one ever visited. It closed.
Hirst has now partnered more appropriately, with chef Mark Hix, reopening the restaurant alongside his Newport Street Gallery in Vauxhall and the two men seem to suit one each other, their now-crumpled faces peering out from a press photo.
It’s a funny area, this corner of Vauxhall, and although the restaurant is visible from the train, it takes a good 10 minutes of clueless pacing around backstreets to find it, all glass and stone and stuffy nosed gallery staff.
There’s no denying that the restaurant looks impressive; up a winding staircase, it’s a stark neon shock at the top. We assume that the boxes of pills shouldn’t cause rather than cure any headaches this time, tucked away up here, but it’s unnerving to find such an assault of medicinal kit when you’re about to eat dinner. It stirs memories we’d rather suppress: hangovers, hospital appointments and queuing in Boots for… actually never mind.
The thing is, the food is rather good. We start with a moreish snack of crispy kale with prawn dust. Deep fried kale is one of the best things to come out of the trend for this curly leafed Brassica, although one should be warned not to inhale while eating — the dust catches the throat and we don’t trust the staff to step in for genuine medical emergencies.
A starter of brik was fun and unusual, our friend gleefully cracking through the pastry, purging a runny yolk. A prawn cocktail was a prawn cocktail — variations on this 70s stalwart are rarely welcome. In fact, we’d happily have done without the horseradish they’d added, presumably to make it feel more of a valid addition to the menu.
Our friend gobbled down a duck curry with rice, but not without leaning in every so often to covet our crab linguine, which was really ruddy excellent. There are a couple of ways to pitch crab linguine, the first being the lighter, white meat dominated, chilli and herb-flecked version — most appropriate for summer. The second is this, the rich, brown-meaty, bisque flavoured sauce — spot on for a cold night in March.
Desserts are ‘meh’. A chocolate thing, a cake thing and a rhubarb thing, all of which rudely come in miniature portions. That might be okay for celebs and models, guys, but some of us like to have everyone else’s cake and eat it.
Pharmacy 2 is a funny one. A spiky, statement interior, which is oddly beautiful but doesn’t encourage you to hang around. The menu however, reads like a local restaurant, the kind of place you’d bed in to with a bottle (or two) of wine.
Our advice is to go once, enjoy it, and then chalk it up to experience. Our bill came to £159, but that did include a martini and a £40 bottle of wine, by no means the cheapest on the list. If only we could’ve snaffled a few Aspirin on the way out.
Pharmacy 2, Newport St, London SE11 6AJ.
Last Updated 21 March 2016