Aside from the particularly bad sandwiches served at Monday departmental meetings, The Firm doesn’t pick up my lunch tab very often. Moreover (and sadly), my typical lunch is a soup, salad or sandwich at desk job, or at best 30 minutes in Eat, Itsu or the work canteen. So it has been an unusual treat to have had 3 restaurant lunches paid for by work in the space of about 10 days [insert witty/naff reference to London Buses].
Rather than review each lunch at length, I’m just going to collate various thoughts in one quick post on the three restaurants. A kind of Time Out or Square Meal type summary of restaurants on or around Fleet Street.
The White Swan
I’ve been to the dining room at the White Swan a number of times. It’s a smart room on the top floor of a good pub. The place is quite a surprise, even for those who know that it exists and is regularly described as a hidden gem. This destination was my suggestion on the back of those previous experiences.
Unfortunately, either my memory has failed me, or the standard of food has gone down a bit in the last year or so. The decor is looking pretty dated too (never been too sure of the porn mirror ceiling, and now it reflects a room that hasn’t had a refurb for some time).
Mains of roast cod, clams and broccoli; poached sea trout, cucumber, horseradish and fennel salad, in almond brown butter; and lamb rump, gnocchi, runner beans and spiced yoghurt were all cooked pretty well, but were not memorable. Pretty basic stuff and average presentation. Bitter chocolate tart was ok and the honeycomb ice cream served with it was nice. But my colleague’s cherry clafoutis was bad. Greasy, heavy, like a sad, twice fried omelette with some shitty pitted cherries occasionally dotted around. The restaurant was quiet but the service was slow.
Still hidden but a slightly dulled and dusty gem. The food is fine, it’s just that it is not as good as I remember. Lunch menu is £25 for 2 courses, £29 for 3. It’s reasonable value and there’s a good wine list, but the White Swan dining room needs a bit of re-invigoration.
thewhiteswanlondon.com – 108 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1ES – 020 7242 9696
Easily the most expensive of the three meals. But the prices suited the occasion – we were saying hello to a colleague who hasn’t been in the office for a few months. Great to see her.
Lutyens is big and busy. Lots of staff, though I thought our waiter was a little bit odd and he kept on disappearing at the wrong times.
I rarely get order envy, but I was pretty annoyed with myself for not getting the artichoke vinnagrette starter. A beautiful and frankly massive whole artichoke served with a nice looking sauce to dip those leaves into. The hearts were huge. Utterly jealous. Other starters were good, though (including a smart steak tartare, complete with quaint quail yolk in the middle of the mince stack).
There are plenty of meat options on the heavily French themed menu. But by coincidence, or maybe because it was a Friday, all of the males at the table had fish for their main course. My scallops were perfectly done: caramel brown on top and bottom; smooth, pearly and just warm but not quite cooked in the middle. I’ve decided that I’m not a massive fan of sauce vierge with these molluscs, though; strangely sickly, after a while. The haddock in the posh fish and chips eaten by two others was big and looked as though it had delicately steamed itself inside a light, non greasy batter. A large and lovely sole in browned butter sauce was skillfully deboned for the man who ultimately settled the bill (for which, many thanks, btw). The ladies took on salads, second starters and a half dozen oysters.
Essentially, everything was cooked as it should have been for the prices that are charged. Starters wobble close to the £10 mark. Most mains head north of £20 (some basically £30). We didn’t go for desserts, but we did take about 20 minutes trying to get the attention of a waiter and some coffees. Good place. But definitely one for expenses; and one that is dominated by suits discussing their second homes and children’s GCSE and A level results.
lutyens-restaurant.com – 85 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AE – 020 7583 8385
28/50 looks and feels very likeable. Which is a good effort when you consider that it is housed in a basement devoid of natural light and (happily) blackberry reception. Quality furniture and decor. Not a hint of Fritzl. The owners of the White Swan would do well to ask for the interior designer’s details.
The food matched: smart, if not dazzling.
My little pan fried disks of ham hock and black pudding ballotine were meaty and tasty. But there was too much mustard in the potato salad and I don’t recall the promised hint of horseradish. Other starters included a nice and pink piece of trout with fennel and other bits. Burrata pugliese was, as promised, a ball of melting mozzarella with a splash of balsamic, some rocket and toasted bread.
For mains, salt cod with chorizo and couscous was tasty and somewhere between delicate and comforting (if that’s possible). I saw some pigs cheeks and belly with quince and swede. And an onglet of beef was charred and served a pointe, as requested. (Seems to be pretty fashionable at the moment, onglet. I like that it’s both tasty and that you have to fight a bit with it. I’m not sure everyone realises onglet is a sawing, tearing and chewing cut of beef when they order it though.)
All in all, perfectly competent bistro food.
We had coffees, a nice French cab sav-merlot, a few bottles of still and sparkling water (which I assume weren’t on the house?) and submitted a bill for just over £30 a head. Which I thought was decent value. There’s a two course set lunch too for around £16.
The only real black mark was that service needs to be speeded up. Sorry, a bit of a stuck record complaint for this post, but 2 courses and coffee was 2 hours. Led to some watch glancing, which is always awkward.
28/50 is a good option (probably the best of the 3, particularly if you can’t justify a Lutyens bill) and should do well. I’d like to return and see what 28/50 is like as a “wine workshop”. It’s harder to push a liquids only bill past our eagle-eyed finance people though.
2850.co.uk – 140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT – 020 7242 8877