Our visit to the Covent Garden branch (there are now five branches across the UK) was miserable. At first site, it's a replica of the original - kitted out in rustic, farm shop style - but that's where similarities end. We were seated at a ridiculously tiny table with our 11-month-old boy. They neglected to offer us a menu. Ten minutes in, a grumpy waiter became aware of our presence.
The menu bears no resemblance to Bill's original, which featured inventive salads and beautiful puds, all freshly made and seasonal. It reads like a poor imitation of Giraffe, a mishmash of standard tourist fare with no obvious theme: butternut squash risotto, burger and fries, fishcakes, thai green curry, lasagne, BLT. Tedious, and uninspired.
Our two burgers took another 40 minutes to arrive, by which time Charlie had finished his lunch, and was itching to get out of his highchair. The meal wouldn't fit on the table, so we had to put drinks and chips on the floor, and the salad we had ordered was missing. With no apologies forthcoming, I found the manager, who gave us a couple of free drinks. She was doing her best with a bad lot: sullen lazy staff, mediocre food, a slow kitchen, and the place thronged with tourists. I didn't envy her.
How was the burger? It looked promising, in a light brioche bun, but was bland. Instantly forgettable. And most definitely not worth the wait. The meat was sub-standard and tasteless, and I couldn't detect any pickle or crunch.
In trying to satisfy the tourist trade, and devise a menu around a new business model rather than seasonality and fresh local produce, the concept behind the original Bill's Produce Store has been well and truly abandoned. What a shame.