I consider myself pretty good at suggesting restaurants for specific occasions. Factoring in location and price range (or any number of other variants pressed upon me) I can usually put forward a restaurant or two to suit requirements – whether it’s for birthdays for people with rowdy friends; birthdays for people with civilised friends; birthdays for people with no friends; group meals for no reason; dates to impress; dates you don’t really want to go on; posh meals paid for by work; nice meals paid for by Mum and Dad; or cheap, cheerful and casual meals paid for by you or me.
If I do indeed have an ability, this is probably due to a combination of (1) spending too much time reading other peoples reviews; (2) a small amount of first hand experience; and (3) possessing a relatively competent hippocampus.
This Monday evening presented a reasonable challenge: dinner with my good friend from home and his girlfriend, who I’d not previously had the pleasure of meeting. He, more often than not, lives abroad working on worthy development projects in needy areas. He’s currently, for example, based in Northern Afghanistan and before that spent 18 months in Uganda. The restaurant scene is not great in either of those places. She is from Louisiana, also does a worthy and caring job (my corporate lawyer guilt kicking in…) and is visiting the UK for the first time. The perception from the Deep South, I’m told, is that British food is one dimensional, bland and boring.
Requirements, therefore, were: good, modern, British food; interesting and buzzy (on a Monday night); down to earth, yet stylish; it had to impress, but wasn’t to be ridiculously expensive or stuffy; and for convenience, we also wanted somewhere central.
The ‘British’ requirement rules out loads of options – thoughts of Terroirs, Polpo or Polpetto (Monday would have been first non soft opening night), anything Asian and so on, kiboshed straight away. Hix Soho would have been spot-on, but I fancied trying somewhere I hadn’t been. J Sheekey? It’s on the list, but I had a feeling that Dean Street Townhouse would be the better bet. So that’s where we went. Pretty much as we entered, it felt like this was a good choice.
We started, after drinks, by sharing warm, freshly baked bread and a plate of pressed ham and piccalilli. The salty ham flaked away with a touch of the fork and the vibrant yellow pickle was a super sharp contrast. Both the terrine and the pickle were the right blend of rustic and refined. Lovely sprouty greenery too. I don’t think the others thought this was anything to write back to Baton Rouge or Kabul about, but I liked it. This is my kind of starter.
My main of Anglesey sea bass with marsh samphire was perfectly cooked; a generous portion of fish with lovely crispy skin and tender, succulent and flakey flesh. The samphire was on the crunchy side of al-dente which, I think, is about right. Simple (basically fish, samphire and half a lemon on the side) but well executed, this dish is a strong example of how to let quality ingredients speak for themselves. Another main – Creedy Carver duck, runner beans & gooseberry sauce – looked rather good. Lovely and pink. The sweet sauce was apparently well suited and was definitely enjoyed. We thought the creamed spinach side dish to share was pretty good too – but like the side of new potatoes, about 25% too expensive at £4 a pop.
The 3rd main was monkfish tail served with baby gem, peas, cucumber & chervil. The dish looked good – the monkfish having been cris-crossed with lovely char marks. It’s not my favourite fish, but from the mouthful I had, I thought it was nicely cooked – delicate and subtly enhanced by the sauce and accompaniments. Our adventurous American guest, who was trying the fish for the first time and whose dish it was, said she liked it. Though she was reserved with her praise. I got the impression she would have preferred it smothered with a spice mix, deep-fried and served with a big bowl of spicy gumbo. Maybe it was too subtle/bland?
Two out of three of our desserts were really good. We persuaded/forced the Yank to have summer pudding. Fortunately she loved it – indeed she has since said that dessert was her highlight (“for this Southerner, it was perfect y’all“). I stole a spoonful and agreed with her praise. Ordinarily I like summer pudding to be a bit more tart (I reckon Dean Street’s is largely blackberry based, rather than my favoured mix of raspberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant) but it was still an excellent example of what, I think, is one of the great British desserts.
I was very pleased with my choice of greengage tart – a sweet, caramelly, puff pastry disc with lovely remnants of gooey and sharp fruit on top. Quite tatin-like and great to see such a tasty and underused fruit on the menu. A healthy (or distinctly unhealthy) portion of clotted cream on the side was the perfect accompaniment. [I should note that I had come very close to choosing the peanut shortbread with salted caramel ice cream and am reliably informed that it, too, is excellent.]
The third dessert on our table – dark chocolate parfait with cherry ice cream – was not quite as successful. This looked good and was pleasant enough, but apparently the parfait did not have as strong a chocolate kick as one would hope.
Dean Street Townhouse did exactly what I hoped it would and suited the occasion perfectly. The food isn’t mind-blowing. But it’s based on quality ingredients, is tasty and effective. It’s worth noting that the menu is full of very appealing dishes. I’d happily have had a number of them.
The evening was particularly good, though, because of the environment that the food is served in. The rooms are lively, chattery and fun; the varied clientelle means that there’s plenty of opportunity to people watch; and the general decor and seating arrangements – the mix of low armchairs, sweeping bar and bright red booths – help create a very enjoyable atmosphere. On top of this, service was friendly and competent (sometimes it seemed a little inattentive, but that’s better than intrustive) and the prices on the whole seem about right. It’s certainly not a cheap restaurant, but it’s not break the piggy bank time either. The food and atmosphere justified the bill; it’s a very good package.
The old restaurant suggestion generator chose well. Dean Street Townhouse was right for this specific occasion, and it will be right for plenty of other occasions too.
Dean Street Townhouse in 3 words
Stylish. Tasty. Buzzing.
A shade under £50 per person covered a pre-meal Meantime beer each, the shared starter, 3x mains, 3x desserts, a couple of side orders, their cheapest white (a perfectly pleasant bottle of 2009 Picpoul Sauvignon, Grandes de Felines, from the Languedoc) and service.
www.deanstreettownhouse.com – 69 – 71 Dean Street, W1D 3SE