Neil Hennessy-Vass finds his meal upstaged by the amazing jazz at the Troubadour London.
The Troubadour is quite simply an institution that means a lot to people of a certain age, and as it turns out to people of all ages. The window packed with a historic collection of coffee pots with a warm glow inside was a welcome sight on the wet and squally night we visited. I wanted to see why this place has endured a faithful patronage since 1954.
Founded by Michael and Sheila van Bloemen initially as a coffee house it rapidly became the place to hang out if you were in any way artistic or left field. CND were based here, Private Eye was published and initially distributed from The Troubadour in 1961. It became a place to hear jazz then folk music. Charlie Watts played here before he was a Rolling Stone. Neil Young, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel and Jimi Hendrix have all done a turn here as well as Bob Dylan on his first ever UK gig in 1962.
Dining at the Troubadour London
Never famous for its food The Troubadour’s offering is basic, there are a few starters, my haloumi fritters with harissa mayo were good but the server was pleased to announce that the mains were just coming, she was right, they arrived 30 seconds later!
So, we were where presented with four plates of food on a small table, I’m sure this was unintended, but we rolled with it. This was a simple example of the slightly chaotic vibe that is on display, but it has its charm. The house burger is a couple of slices of beef brisket, the meat was a bit dry but came with all the normal trimmings of burger and my shepherd’s pie was tasty and solid. But you don’t really come for the food (although it was full on a very rainy Monday evening, so they keep some people happy clearly).
Knowing that we were due to descend for the music at 8pm I was surprised that the plates weren’t cleared away at 7.30 after we had finished our starters/mains to give us enough time to order the rather good chocolate brownie with Madagascan vanilla ice cream. We missed the band opening, but no matter.
Relaxed Jazz at the Troubadour
After eating, it’s downstairs where the action really is, I believe that you can eat there as well, but I’d say it’s better to cut the evening in two and relocate for the music. It’s possible to reserve a table in the basement and I’d advise it as it was also full. There’s bar at the back of the room, barely a stage at the front, about six inches above floor level but the evening’s musical offering; Mike Outram Trio didn’t require any more elevation. Guitarist, Mike, organist Ross Stanley and on drums the enormously impressive Andy Trip played a mixture of jazz fusion, with essence of Steely Dan, a sprinkle of the Alan Parsons Project and although I thought it at the time a little research confirmed King Crimson (Mike has played and recorded with Robert Fripp).
The music was clear, crisp, and frankly downright brilliant. I loved their fluidity and relaxed manner. So relaxed in fact (but isn’t that always the jazz way) not really to know what song they had agreed to play next, but just carried on and it all seemed to work perfectly.
While each element in the trio had its own strengths, Andy Trim gets the top dog badge for enjoying himself on the drums in a way that never seemed like showing off yet was unmistakably so professional and cool it’s hard not to think that he eats, drinks and sleeps jazz drumming. The crowd were welcoming and bear in mind this top-notch jazz is essentially free, you just have to buy yourself a drink, on Sunday and Monday nights and you can enjoy a couple of hours of pure laidback bliss.
They do sell a good range of beers, cocktails to keep you refreshed, the wine list is a little short but the Malbec I chose was delightful. The Troubadour offers all sorts of other music on different nights of the week so check their website for listings. You never know you might just catch the next Hendrix without even realising it.
265-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA
T: 020 72416333