Stepping into The Piano Works was like turning up to a party that you could feel was just about to get going…and get really good. Ok, so this isn’t the place to turn up at 5pm (have a leisurely drink at Vivat Bacchus Wine Bar or Fable, both are a hop skip and a jump away on Farringdon Road) but it most definitely is a place to celebrate a Thursday night. Whether you’re out for a birthday or a knees-up with colleagues, you’ll come out of The Piano Works with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.
After being greeted by the smiliest bouncers in the whole of London, who wished us a great evening as we trotted down the steps into the basement bar, and after putting our coats and bags in for free (yes, for free), we were asked by cheery staff whether we’d made a reservation. That hateful question. Asked by so many a haughty waiter. To which the scenario usually pans out with you saying, ‘er, no, sorry’, and them nodding disapprovingly, tapping away on a computer to check ‘the system’ for the slim chance of last-minute availability. Ah, but not here at The Piano Works. The cheery staff there told us to hang on a sec, then scurried off into the bar to rearrange some tables, et voila – we’d bagged the last table for two.
Down in the roomy bar, our table overlooked the stage, on which sat two enormous pianos and their pianists, tinkling away at a live version of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. The premise of The Piano Works is that the audience chooses the songs – you write it down on a napkin, with a little tip if you want, and the waiters will take your song suggestions to the performers. Like a live jukebox. The result is a life-escaping combination of joyful dad dancing and hearty singing from the mix of creative Clerkenwell design gurus and serious lawyer types who’ve loosened ties and top buttons.
The menu is short and sweet, which is exactly what you want when you can’t be bothered to peruse a long list because there’s just too much fun to be had away from it. Sharers include a few nibbly bits like olives and nuts while snacks include sliders, smoked haddock croquettes and vegetable fritters. The larger plates feature a selection of rolls, which you can have with or without the bun, and all come with paprika chips, pickles and a creamy dip. We had a softshell crab roll and a no-roll steak sandwich, with beers on the side. The chips were both soft and crunchy, and I’m stealing the paprika idea. The crab was soft and tasty, if a little over-battered. The steak was thin and tender, and it came with a deliciously crisp salad that had a pickly-like dressing – so tangy and good I can still taste it. We opted for cocktails (me a French 75, and him an Old Fashioned) instead of dessert, which was a simple choice of pie or pudding – I saw both being delivered to the table next door and they looked as unctuous and calorific as you’d imagine.
As the hours tick by unnoticed, so the drinks slip down and the dancefloor starts filling. Just like karaoke, the initial shyness is eventually overcome by a bit of Dutch courage, and before you know it, waiters are sent skipping back and forth with song-scribbled napkins requesting the likes of The Lion King soundtrack and Taylor’s Shake It Off. The band do the songs justice, and hats off to the trumpet player on the night who jumped off her podium to mingle with the crowd while she did her solo during Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke.
If you’re into dancing like no one’s watching, throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care, and doing it with a bunch of strangers who are also up for this sort of Thursday-night freestyling, then The Piano Works is for you.