Update October 2016: Upstairs at Antidote has undergone a couple of changes since this write-up. I haven’t been to the current iteration. Downstairs is a decent wine bar with good cured meat and a few cheeses.
A few days ago I saw a comment on twitter by the venerable Oisin Rogers, which stood out from the general noise like Batman’s call sign on a pitch-black Gotham sky:
“Everybody should take a weekday off and go for lunch in London. You can eat like a king in most restaurants for less than £35 per head.”
How right he is.
Lunches taken when you would ordinarily be working are a wonderful thing – there’s an intrinsic sense that you’ve beaten the system. An afternoon in the sun at Rochelle Canteen. Time standing still at The River Café or Petersham Nurseries. Two bottle plus digestif lunches at really fine but not feign deigning places, from Otto’s to ToastED and Mayfields. Bliss.
As Osh pointed out, a key benefit of a weekday lunch is that, because many restaurants offer lunch ‘deals’, your wallet takes less of a hit than at dinner. Bargains always taste better.
A two minute internet scroll shows that three or four courses at Wild Honey, Texture, Hibiscus, The Clove Club are all to be had for £29-£35. You’re a mug if you’ve never taken advantage of Galvin Bistro De Luxe’s £19.50 prix-fixe. Away from the fancy frills, The Dairy, Upstairs at the Ten Bells, Salon give away three courses of quality, unfussy but innovative scran for less than £25 (Salon’s is less than £16 – that’s about the price of a Pret salad, no?).
Add Antidote to the database.
Antidote is a relaxed wine bar with a serious list and an upstairs dining room, just off Carnaby Street. The cute corner building, cobbled surrounds and understated, stylish fit-out are pleasingly unexpected, given the epicentre of Hell that is Oxford Circus is only two hundred metres away. I’ve walked past for a number of years and thought it looked a good spot. But freely admit to only being interested in eating there after recent whispers of a partnership with Hedone chef Mikael Jonsson grew to more than a murmour.
So there we were: in a light, unfussy, sun kissed room in Soho, looking at a perfectly succinct weekday lunch menu. Six choices split across starter, main and dessert. Two for £19, three for £23, four for £30. Between two of us, we tried one of everything …
… but not until we’d been given a chilled lettuce gaspachio with mustard sour cream amuse bouche (refreshing, cleansing, awakening) and some hunks of sourdough. Much has been made of this Hedone baked loaf. The crust sure was brown, thick and crisp, and the dough gloriously airy. But it was also a bit sticky and wet for my liking (perhaps cut too soon after baking?). Head to Toulouse’s markets for ‘Le Cadenet bien cuit’ for the pinnacle of that style. I’ll stick with Hackney Wild from E5 for my daily bread.
From there everything else was a joy.
At first glance, a spring salad looked pretty but relatively plain – a green salad with a solitary slice of tomato. In fact, a multitude of different ingredients made up a beautifully balanced, continually surprising dish. Hidden underneath were three purées – red pepper, asparagus (possibly pea), parmesan and white asparagus. There were a few shards of Spanish Bellota, green asparagus, white asparagus, fresh peas, just blanched fennel, faintly pickled artichoke. My pal had a delicate plate of Scottish langoustine, blobs and foams of apples and watercress dotted artfully around – though all with a flavour purpose.
For mains, inch thick squares of monkfish were spot on – served just underdone with a few sprigs of white sprouting broccoli and a dab of a purée made from the same stuff. Beautifully presented. Ditto three different cuts of salt marsh lamb. As so often, the cheap piece of pressed belly the most flavoursome, though mini fillet and a slice from a more prime muscle had their own qualities. Wilted seasonal greens and wild garlic purée were perfect partners. A pickled cumber was less predictable, and cut through the richness of the lamb and heat of the ramson. Good dish.
To finish, sharp delights from a variety of citrus sorbets and smudges, all of which were vivid, light and uplifting, or (and) a flawless chocolate moelleux, with a thin, crisp base, smooth and velvety mousse filling and an implausibly shiny coat. A passion fruit sorbet quenelle topped things of in all senses of the word.
A fairly glowing report, then – I think, by and large, that’s deservedly so. The room is unfussy and relaxed, service was excellent, we didn’t drink enough wine, but what we had was stellar, and the food offering was well devised, smartly cooked and delightfully plated (the 2cm high rims on the main course croquery are a bit silly, mind).
Remember, though, that these things are always relative: this isn’t the best place to eat in London, let alone the best thing since sourdough bread came to town – it is just lunch and the loud applause is partly there because of the value of meal, the location (and bookability) of the restaurant. Other awesome lunches are out there, but this is well conceived and particularly central.
So many lunches are depressing grab and go sandwiches, or leftovers al desko. You deserve a treat – take an afternoon off and go beat the system.
Antidote in 3 words
Light. Seasonal. Refreshing.
Lunch is £19, £23 or £30. Wines will knock things north considerably. Dinner is £40 for four course. I think there’s a more expensive seven courser too. The wine bar downstairs does charcuterie platters and a few small plates.
antidotewinebar.com– 12A Newburgh Street, W1F 7RR – 020 7287 8488