It’s that time of year when I look back at a number of my better meals out and realise these weren’t had at brand new, paint still drying, hype leaden new places, but at restaurants that have bedded in and got comfortable with themselves; even if they’re not quite the ‘concept’ they thought would be.
What follows are some thoughts on restaurants revisited. Some of these places have rejigged and reloaded the staff – an exercise that highlights but probably doesn’t answer the question of whether it’s the head chef or the whole package that gives a restaurant gusto. (It’s a bit of both).
Remember Antidote, the wine bar off Carnaby St with a restaurant above it? You know, the one that was quietly taken under the wing of Mikael Jonsson (he of Hedone) in Spring 2014, and which served up clever, seasonal, contemporary set course meals in a stylish but generally too empty dining room?
Well, it’s still there, they still get *that* bread from the parental restaurant, and it’s still not nearly full enough despite the terrific food on offer.
The difference now is that the head chef has changed; so the kitchen is now led by Michael Hazlewood, who used to run the show at Toast in East Dulwich. Anyone who ate at Toast pre June 2015 should already be looking for their Oyster card and heading into town, because they’ll appreciate the modern bistronomy style of cooking, clean flavours and seasonality of Hazlewood’s food.
My dinner at the new version of Antidote was a couple of months ago now, but I can still vividly remember an absolutely cracking (and beautiful) pigeon dish, where the perfectly cooked squab (I think) was punctuated with compressed and flavourful fennel, crunchy yet creamy cobnuts and intense sweet sherry braised radicchio leaves. This was part of a four course meal, which cost £40 pp and was washed down by some intriguing and invigorating natural wines – all matched, poured and explained with aplomb by the sommelier.
Antidote is something of an anomaly in that it’s a grown-up, fully bookable restaurant in Soho. It is cursed, I suspect, by the fact the dining room is not at street level and the fact they’re not likely to stick Korean fried chicken wings and burgers on the menu. Note, though, that if Antidote was situated 100m to the west (Mayfair), the prices would be 50% higher and the room full of grey suits. Good restaurant, go eat.
Update 5 October 2016: Michael Hazlewood has now left Antidote and I believe the food is now in a different direction. I haven’t been to the new version.
Social Eating House
Speaking of meals eaten some months ago in bookable restaurants in Soho, I’ve not, until now, mentioned a seriously good feed and watering courtesy of Social Eating House way back when the days and nights were warm.
I remember visiting Social Eating House when it first opened in 2013. I recall good cocktails, decent food of the early Jason Atherton empire formula, and a convivial room.
Since then I’ve recommended it many times; often as a, cough, third date option (bookable, central, bit flash but not pretentious, get them and you drunk on cocktails upstairs before or after). Though I’d not returned myself, feedback gave the impression the food had moved from decent to pretty damn good, and that the cocktails still hit the spot and did the trick.
The meal I ate was downstairs with a front row seat looking into the kitchen. Though the menu was not their standard one (so little point regaling you of it now), the cooking was top class and, perhaps more pertinently, I got to watch the food for the main restaurant being cooked and prepared and I feel pretty confident that it was at least at the level of the food we ate, if not beyond it. Good ingredients, clever techniques and presentation, with flavour still king. You’re unlikely to think you could’ve cooked it yourself and, in any event, had you done so, you’d also have to wash up when you really ought to be having one more drink for the road.
Though Social Eating House is on my Soho bookable date night list, the one restaurant that, regardless of the purpose of the meal, is always in the top three places I suggest people eat is Lyle’s. For this Shoreditch restaurant sits at the intersection of numerous eating categories – modern British; smart(ish); casual(ish); for trend seekers; yet also likely to outlast the hype; and (at lunch time in particular) extremely good value.
I have to say I wish their lunch a la carte option extended into the evening, but I don’t lose too much sleep about that as I’m fully aware a set evening menu provides the restaurant (and subsequently the customer) with certain beneficial economies. More importantly, I (and you) can of course just go for lunch.
A month or so ago, grilled mussels, sweetcorn in honey butter, monkfish liver and greengages, and a lamb breast, hispi and gherkin assemble (essentially a posh kebab), were among a clutch of brilliant dishes and part of an outstanding 4 carafe ‘business’ lunch. Seriously tasty, fulfilling and memorable.
I love the quietly self-assured nature of Lyle’s. Now it’s picked up a Michelin star I’m sure some diners will walk out thinking the food was just a bit simpler and plainer than they expected. That simplicity is deceptive; there’s more thought in the sourcing and better execution in the cooking here than is involved in showy smears, foams and gels elsewhere.
Very worth a visit if you’ve not already been; or a re-visit if it’s been too long.
There’s just about time for a quick mention of Clapton’s Verden.
When I ate at Verden a year ago, “Cured Meat, Cheese and Wine” was this restaurant’s clarion call. The three focus points of that are still high on their agenda, though I get the feeling meat and cheese lists have been quietly paired back on account of the fact this it is, ultimately, a local restaurant in the relatively early stages of an up-and-coming area. For most people, a meal out means hot food and a full belly.
Evolving a concept from the one you’d spent months (years?) planning is, I imagine, a difficult thing to do. Which to me, means the team behind Verden should be applauded for ending up with something that’s still clearly linked to the original blueprint, but also very definitely a well pitched neighbourhood restaurant with an ever changing, succinct, seasonal menu. I’m looking, currently, at lamb heart tartare with sourdough (£7.5), slip soles, sea greens and brown shrimp beurre blanc (£16.5), creamed polenta, wild mushrooms and brocolli (£11) and damson bavarois (£6). Further down the page I see Tuesday steak nights are powered by Philip Warren’s Cornish beef at relatively bargainous prices. And I’ve recently experienced a quality ‘feasting’ experience that delivered well beyond the £30pp price tag. Really good stuff. One to keep on revisiting.
Update 5 October 2016: Verden has now closed.
Brawn and Mission
As a side note, Brawn v.2.0 has been on The List for a criminally long time. I’d hoped to have got my act together and visited in time to fit with this rejigged/reloaded theme. But I haven’t, and now Marina’s review on Saturday pushed it to Must Go, Stat status. It should be there or thereabouts for you too.
And Mission announced last week that they’ve got a new chef. His first menus have looks really intriguing – with distinct Japanese and Scandinavian influences. Make a beeline.
A Three word summary
Revisit your favourites.
Not thinking about it.