Quo Vadis: Forecasting a bright future

Quo Vadis

26-29 Dean Street

London

W1D 3LL

Tel: 020 7437 9585

Groucho Marx once said, ‘I’m leaving because the weather is too good. I hate London when it’s not raining’. What is it with the weather and us Brits? When it snows we hate it because it is too cold and when we experience the odd blast of Caribbean style weather we complain because it is far too hot.

In the top right corner of the new menu at Quo Vadis, the weather forecast is written; Mottled 11 degrees celsius.

I am willing to bet that, like the rest of the new menu at this Soho establishment, this final touch is from the legendary Jeremy Lee who has just taken his position behind the stove as new head chef. The Hart brothers, always immaculately dressed in Savile Row suits and tasselled brogues, have pulled off any almighty coup by uprooting Jeremy from his home at the Blueprint Cafe for 20 years and bringing him to Soho.

I’ll happily admit that I’ve always preferred the Hart’s Frith Street hangout, Barrafina, compared to QV. The stained glass window restaurant has always been more ‘Mayfair’, taking the wrong exit at Piccadilly and ending up in Soho.

The refurbishment has helped. The dark exterior has been replaced with a  shade of duck egg blue and inside the room has shaken off its former image with some subtle changes here and there. The equivalent of an office worker taking off their tie and unbuttoning their shirt at the collar.

The menu is constrained, with only five starters and five mains and a few other choices including oysters, meat from the grill and today’s pie.  Baked salsify and parmesan, from the bites section of the menu, is a cute combination and is cleverly simple. The chicken and duck liver pate was silky smooth and had an unbelievable shine to it. Bloater paste is a cheeky little tub of salted herring, which we discovered tasted even better when spread on the salsify.

Next up, the Lee signature dish. Smoked eel and horseradish sandwich. Chunky fillet of eel inside toasted crunchy country bread that had been smeared with creamed homemade horseradish for £6.50. Anything that good and that still gives you change from a tenner gets my vote any day of the week.

The sea bass with artichokes and gremolata was dear at £19.50 for the portion size but you couldn’t fault the cooking. The leg of middlewhite pork with braised beans and green sauce came slightly pink, always a good sign that the kitchen knows what they are doing. Delicate slices of pig with a side of beans in a caper, anchovy and parsley sauce. Ding dong.

The weather may have been mottled that day but things at Quo Vadis certainly are not now Mr Lee is in the house . The next time someone asks me ‘Quo Vadis?’, I shall simply answer yes.

Meal for two with wine including service is approximately £80

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MEATliquor: Great Expectations

MEATliquor

74 Welbeck Street 

London 

W1G 0BA

Tues – Thurs 12.00 – Midnight 

Fri – Sat 12.00 – 02.00

No reservations 

‘Take nothing on its looks; everything on its evidence. There’s no better rule.’ (Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 1860). 

Most of us have probably caught at least some of the BBC’s costume drama over the past few days, Great Expectations. If this was set in modern-day and Pip came to London, someone would probably have sent him a tweet to tell him to check out MEATliquor when he arrived.

Meatliquor is from the guys behind the insanely popular Meat Wagon and #MeatEasy that was in New Cross for part of the year. Twitter, blogs and newspaper critics have all been raving about this shrine for meat that opened up in a car park behind Debenham’s on Oxford Street just over a month ago.

A neon red sign spelling out ‘MEAT’ is above the 1970’s style reinforced glass doors that have been whitewashed giving it the feel that the building is derelict. The first thing that hits you is the graffiti walls in black, red and white reminiscent of a heavy metal style album cover. The lighting is low, with a mixture of white bulbs and red bulbs, adding to that salubrious feel. Just the sort of place you would find on the side of the highway in Nevada, en route to Las Vegas. The slightly sunken pit in the middle of the room, is asking for fraternity party scenes with Hooter girls standing on the large round table pouring tequila from on high.

Luckily we arrived just gone 10pm so we did not have to queue and were seated straight away by our waitress, armed with a builders belt full of bottle opening gizmos. We started with some cocktails in jam jars. The selection was good but the booze count was a little light. An extra shot in each and they would have been spot on.

We kicked off with some fried gherkins, onion rings and buffalo wings. A large stainless steel baking tray lined in a red chequered grease proof paper was delivered. The wings were tasty little fellas that had a marinade that gave them that slight kick. A second portion were ordered immediately after the first few bones had been discarded back on to the tray. The fried gherkins dipped into the blue cheese dipping sauce are proper white trash canapes at their best.

Next up, the burgers. The Dead Hippie looks just how a burger should with its double patty filling along with some melted cheese and lettuce. It so upsets me when you see a burger that has been deconstructed and looks like a kids plastic toy with the perfectly sliced onion ring and a bit of lettuce. These are designed to be messy and finger licking, hence the roll of kitchen towel on the table. Only later was I told that this is owner Yiannis take on the Big Mac. The sweet relish that is used transports your taste buds right back to the last cheeky Big Mac you had at the Golden Arches. Prices are cheap with all the burgers around the £8.00 mark, making it a competitor to the likes of Byron.

But this is where the connotation of expectations comes into its own. I wasn’t blown away by MEATLiquor and this made me feel a little disappointed by the whole experience. The tweets and blogs that have been bouncing around cyber space create such a high level of expectation and hysteria, each time topping up your own level of expectation the longer you don’t get around to going. A double-edged sword for the restaurateur, maybe? I know restaurateurs who prefer a three star review over a five-star review precisely for this reason; expectations. It is a lot easier to disappoint a customer coming into a restaurant full of five-star expectation that one coming in without.

I want to go back to MEATliquor and start over again. This time just with not such great expectations.

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34: Mayfair’s new steakholder

34

34 Grosvenor Square

London W1K 2HD

Tel: 020 350 3434

http://www.34-restaurant.co.uk

Adrian Gill. A quality writer. Shot a baboon. Married to the blonde. I probably couldn’t tell you much more about the man. Ask most people to describe him in two words and it would probably be ‘restaurant critic’.  Despite his power to make a restaurateur quiver at their knees and hide behind the nearest menu, how much gravitas does his Sunday Times restaurant column actually have?

Do not get me wrong, Mr Gill knows what he is talking about but it is fair to say that I read his reviews for the glorious prose and humorous one liners rather than a source for where to have dinner this week. Any restaurateur, general manager or maitre’d who are worth their salt, should be able to recognise the likes of Gill, Coren and Fay. Critics should not get preferential treatment over the likes of you and I who are not passing the bill back to our editor, but if you were running the show you’d be daft not to make sure that they are looked after and warn the kitchen who is on that table. It goes as read.

Before reading Gill’s review of 34, Richard Caring’s new steak restaurant, I had a feeling he wasn’t going to like it.

The Martin Brudnizki designed room is worth the price tag that it most likely came with. Standing by reception, the room is narrow in depth but spans far from left to right with a cosy bar for about half a dozen at one end that is also home to the pianist and his baby grand. The artwork is modern, very New York bachelor penthouse. The Smythson tones of the orange leather chairs and the perfect lighting level make it a handsome room and not to masculine considering it is all about steak. Each table also has a cute gas table lamp, which reminds me of the ones at Annabel’s and act as a subtle barrier between you and your neighbouring table.

The bespoke charcoal Argentinian grill, the parrila, is the focus of the room and adds a sense of informality to the whole affair. The white wooden plantation shuttering gives it that Hamptons beach house feel. The vivacious Laura Montana is GM and her infectious, bubbly personality rubs off on the rest of the staff. Forget stuffy, snooty service. These are a new generation of front of house.

The menu is surprisingly short. Starters are simple English classics with the likes of the prawn cocktail and a crab salad. The burrata with smoked salted beets is the sort of dish you expect to see coming from Florence Knight’s kitchen at Polpetto. A perfect warm up for the taste buds before the meat dominated mains but the price tag of £13.25 for a starter gives you a gentle prod to remind you that you are in W1.

There is a good geographical spread when it comes to choosing the bit of cow you want to eat. Scottish, Australian, Argentinian and USA are all available. We stuck with the Scottish rib eye. I have no intention, or the financial backing, to spend eighty-five quid on a Wagyu steak when the piece of Scottish cattle we had tasted as it did. A perfect medium rare slab of meat for £33.00. A veal chop was generous in size and cooked slightly pink, how it should be, and at a rather reasonable price of £26.00.

Whatever you do if you visit 34, order the onion rings. Even if you don’t like onion rings, order them. These crunchy little hoops of joy are the best I have ever had. The secret is supposedly a shallot and chardonnay vinegar before they are fried. The wine list, put together by the Annabel’s Cellarmaster Richard Rotti, and has some real gems with prices starting at £22.

I could give you 34 reasons as to why I disagree with AA Gill’s review of this new steak restaurant but I won’t. Just go to 34, eat steak, order the onion rings, be merry and judge it for yourself.

Meal for two with wine is approximately £140 including service. 

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The Delaunay: Meet me under the clock

The Delaunay

55 Aldwych

London WC2B 4BB

Tel: 020 7499 8558

Mon-Fri: 7am – Midnight

Sat: 8am – Midnight

Sun: 11am – 11pm

I apologise if this all sounds a little bit ‘X Factor’ but I recently had the pleasure of meeting one of my three restaurant idols, Keith McNally. This East End Londoner is famous for putting his stamp on the Manhattan dining scene with such places as Balthazar, Schiller’s and Minetta Tavern. Ironically McNally was at Mishkin’s, the latest opening from another idol, Russell Norman. If you had to compare the man behind Polpo and its siblings to another restaurateur, then it probably would be McNally. These two get behind the skin of a restaurant and make it into a personality, resulting in their restaurants being some of the coolest hang outs in both London and Manhattan, respectively. McNally is now back living in on home soil, having bought a house in Notting Hill while he oversees the much anticipated opening of his first restaurant in London at the former Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, which is being funded by Richard Caring.

This decadent building on the corner of the Inigo Jones designed Piazza and Russell Street was originally meant to open its doors last week as The Delaunay, from the fastidious Jeremy King and Chris Corbin. The Delauany did open its doors last week but a little further up the road on Aldwych but lets put that story aside for a rainy day.

Jeremy King, my third restaurant role model, is the gentle giant of the restaurant world. The other night, only the second night they had been fully open, he was majestically greeting guests at their tables. The true ambassador to old school service. The room has been designed by the soft-spoken Dubliner, David Collins The dark wood panelled room oozes a ‘clubby’ feel that is echoed by the leather curtain that hangs by reception and the art work in the bar. The two men who brought us The Ivy clearly had a bit of nostalgia when designing this room.

There are glimpses of The Wolseley with the horseshoe seating plan in the centre of the room and similar cosy leather banquettes but in racing green rather than black and of course, the friendly faces of the staff.  Sebastian Fogg, who started his career at The Ivy and went across the pond to open the Monkey Bar in New York before going to Caprice Holdings to open Soho House West Hollywood and Dean Street Townhouse, has returned home. The exuberant Marcus and Irish charm of Fergal, both from The Wolseley, make you feel most welcome.

The menu is large, as it should be for an all day European cafe with the inspiration from the grand cafes of Vienna and Budapest. We started with Winter beetroot and Honeyed Goats’ Curd salad and Tarte Flambee. The tarte with its crispy base had a liberal layer of creamy sauce, smoked bacon and shallots. The salad was like an artists palette with the magenta of the beetroot and the curd cut through the earthy flavour of the root vegetable.

There is a section of the menu titled Weiners with the traditional Frankfurter priced at £9.00 served with a potato salad, sauerkraut and caramelised onions. We opted for the choice of two for £9.75  to include a Berner Wurstel. The spathcock poussin and the Kedgree both deserve a mention from the stellar list of dishes on the menu. The trusty Wiener Schnitzel and Croque monsieur, two of my favourite dishes from 160 Piccadilly, are also on the menu.

Those with a sweet tooth are catered for admirably. The Scheiterhaufen with calvados sauce is a mix between what you and I would call an apple strudel and  bread and butter pudding. The Salzburg souffle with apricot compote is a fluffy delight that seems to somewhat float in the oval copper pan that it was served in. Under the coupes list on the menu, is the Lucian. Dedicated to the great man himself, Lucian Freud, who became a great friend of Jeremy and Chris as well as their most regular diner. The wine list has the civilsed touch with all of them being available by the glass, carafe and bottle. Those are the little touches that make such a difference.

There is an elevated clock at the back of dining room that tells all in the room the time. Time is the key to what Jeremy and Chris are all about. They create places that are timeless. They are patient. They have been waiting for the right opportunities to come along and like a London bus, three come along at once with the opening of Brasserie Zedel and the Oriel site next year.

In time, meeting under the clock at The Delaunay will be the London equivalent of meeting by the clock in the lobby at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Meal for two with wine is approximately £100 including service.

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Mishkin’s: When Ezra met Egon

Mishkin’s 

25 Catherine Street

London

WC2B 5JS

Tel: 020 7240 2078

http://www.mishkins.co.uk

Mon – Sat 11am – Midnight

Sun 12 noon – 11pm


I reckon Egon Ronay and Ezra Mishkin would have got on rather well. Ronay, a Hungarian Jew born in 1915 and Mishkin, a Ukrainian Jew who came to London in 1931 both made a career in food. I can picture them seated in a booth at Russell Norman’s latest gaff, a kinda Jewish deli on Catherine Street in Covent Garden, tucking into a plate of pickled herring and some hot salt beef. They would be talking away for hours about family, history, Jewish persecution and restaurants until at the end of the meal when Ronay would insist on picking up the tab. This man who taught Britain how to eat, was a master of our time who knew everyone but remained an outsider and never in his illustrious career ever failed to pay for a meal.

A friend of mine has just published a collection of essays on Egon Ronay, charting his life from when he escaped from communist Hungary to Britain in 1946 and all through his illustrious career. Ronay’s father was a restaurateur and used his connections to hook Ronay up with his first job managing Princes restaurant in Piccadilly. This is where Ronay had his first insight into just how bad British food and the restaurant industry was. He realised Londoner’s had no taste for food and the restaurateur had no audience to play for. To this day, Jeremy King still refers to his restaurant as a theatre and each night is a live performance.  Ronay went on to open Marquee, a tea room in the shadow of Harrod’s on Hans Place, which is where Fifties Britain was first introduced to classic French dishes. He later went on to be food critic for The Daily Telegraph.

Admiring Mishkin’s from the other side of Catherine Street the other night, the warm glow of light from inside and the outline of people sat at the bar, I knew without even stepping foot inside that Russell Norman and his business partner Richard Beatty had done it again.

Although a slightly irregular shape, the room is easy on the eye and the layout works. Black and white floor tiles have replaced the aged wooden floorboards that have been painstakingly rehoused on the wall on the right hand side of the restaurant. What could be Farrow & Ball duck egg blue is the choice on patches of the wall and compliments the red leather banquettes. Think hipster Brooklyn American diner. Spuntino’s less intimidating sibling.

The food is a mixture of Jewish deli and East End caff. The menu is homage to the deep fryer. On our first visit we started with fried green tomatoes to pick at while choosing what else to eat. Upon my next visit these had been replaced with pickled fried sprouts, an ideal solution to get your kids to finish their veg. Unlike the rest of the Polpo family, Mishkin’s is not as much about sharing but don’t let that stop you. Duck hash with fried egg and liquor, can only be described as the ultimate hangover brunch. Cod cheek popcorn is exactly that. The perfect fish snack. I bet Captain Birdseye wishes he came up with that one.

The pickled herring with beet tartar is the perfect accompaniment to cut through the heavier plates of food. Everyone who has been to New York and have been to one of the thousands of deli’s that are on every block along Manhattan island, knows that the sandwich is king.

Brick Lane salt beef is just as good as anything you can get in East London and the Reuben on rye with pastrami, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese means we no longer have to travel across the pond to get a taste of NY’s delis. The standout dish, and what is likely to become the signature dish, is the meatloaf. Think of everything you know about meatloaf and now clear it from your mind. This meatloaf is a moist little nugget of protein wedged into a small bread tin. Digging into it you hit the food equivalent of gold, a runny boiled egg oozing its yolk into the meat.

The wine list is French and is pleasing to both the palette and the wallet. However, the real drinking can be found on the gin list with twenty-five gins including a bottle from the local Tesco Express in Covent Garden. Tom George is in charge of the room and the young, cool staff manage to maintain that relaxed attitude but still delivering good service.

Mishkin’s has two identities. During the day, it is the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch, an ideal place to come on Sunday to gorge and read the papers. In the evening, its mischievous side is revealed. The lights are dimmed low, the music is turned up and the blinds are drawn so no one can see in. And this is exactly what restaurants should be all about; fun and an experience.

We need to thank Egon Ronay for his influential role in food and restaurants in Britain for over half a decade. He encouraged people to get an interest in what they eat and where they eat. Many say he was the man who helped put London on the food map with his passion for harnessing a self-belief in British chefs as well as launching his eponymous food guide. His goal was to make people respect food and to improve the standard of British cuisine; he succeeded. Ezra Mishkin dreamt of one day having his own restaurant in London; he too succeeded.

‘Egon Ronay: a memoir of the man who taught Britain how to eat’ published by Newbaz Ltd is priced at £25.

Photographs are provided by the Mario Testino of the food world, Paul Winch-Furness. http://www.paulwf.co.uk 

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2012: Gold for London’s Restaurants?

We awoke to the news on Friday morning that Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, the legendary restaurateurs, had secured the Oriel site on Sloane Square after Lord Cadogan had given them the thumbs up. A week earlier they had announced they are also to open Brasserie Zedel on the former Atlantic Bar and Grill site just off Piccadilly Circus. They aim to have both places open before the Olympics comes to town next year and not forgetting The Delaunay, which opens next week.

The headlines over the past few weeks have been dominated with economic turmoil in Europe and signs of another recession. But forget George Osborne’s monotonous tones about the faltering British economy and Angela Merkel telling us how the show should be run, the London restaurant scene is most definitely not in need of any quantitative easing.

Recently we have been seeing recession friendly gaffs, both in restaurant design and menu prices, such as Russell Norman’s Polpo and Julian Bigg’s Ducksoup opening up but now the high rollers are back and ready to put down some serious wonga.

The crassly expensive C. London gained a sister last week by the name of Downtown Mayfair by G. Cipriani. This stealth opening has popped up on the former Haiku site, just off Savile Row. Whether London needs a second, seemingly confused, Cipriani serving a Croque Monsieur for £17.00 or having a sushi bar in the basement is yet to be seen.

The discreet Arjun Waney is on a roll with the Arts Club which opened last month for hedge funders and Gwyneth to mingle and do breakfast. If they get bored they can now hop in their chauffeured Mercs for two minutes to Aurelia on Cork Street. The usual guff on the concept of the menu is statutory.  Sharing plates are the name of the game (where isn’t now?) and the prices echo those found in the fashion houses on neighbouring Bond Street. A sharing plate of pork belly is £18.50. Nevertheless the place was buzzing, rammed. But it doesn’t stop there for this private equity guru who next year is opening Banca on North Audley Street and a South American restaurant called Villa Rosa on Piccadilly.

Richard Caring is happy to keep investing his rag trade millions into restaurants with the meat version of Scott’s, 34 opening next week as well as his plans for Balthazar in Covent Garden and The Ivy cafe on Curzon Street both opening their doors early next year.

Arkady Novikov is making his debut in the big smoke with Novikov opening on 1st December on Berkeley Street. There is going to be a 150 seat Asian restaurant, a brave move when opening up opposite Nobu, and a 150 seat Italian restaurant. This place is bigger than the athletes canteen will be at the Olympic village.

There is no doubting that these high-profile restaurant openings by reputable restaurateurs are creating hundreds of jobs and coaxing more money from tourists and Londoners alike, benefiting the economy. The speed at which these high-end restaurants are opening is frantic. Quicker than Usain Bolt.

I am not sure what London is going to be like during the Olympics but one thing for sure is that we can offer visitors some of the best restaurants in the world. Even if Team GB does not win any gold medals on home soil, our restaurants sure will.

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What is great service?

‘The customer is king until he dethrones himself’ is how Fernando Peire answered a question on whether the customer is ever wrong. An interesting concept from the managing director of The Ivy and now the face of Channel Five’s Restaurant Inspector, who happily admitted he throws at least three people out of The Ivy every year.

Alongside Mr Peire on stage at the National Theatre last Friday night was the Observer’s Jay Rayner and food writer and critic Matthew Fort. They had gathered on stage, the set of  ‘In the Kitchen’ in the backdrop, to discuss restaurant service. We were here to see if these three had the answer to the Holy Grail for all restaurateurs, ‘What is great service?’

We all have our own opinion of what is great service. Fernando Peire believes that it is all about understanding who the customer is and most importantly never interrupting them during their meal to ask if everything is ok. Simply, service is everything other than what is on the plate.

The Brits are always criticised for never complaining in restaurants to the same passionate level of that of an Italian or fiery New Yorker when we are on the receiving end of poor service. The Fawlty Towers scene with Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby comes to mind. The two of them sat there complaining about how awful their dinner is, when Basil strides over, rudely interrupts them and asks if ‘everything is ok?’. The two of them enthusiastically reply that it is lovely.

Interestingly, both Jay Rayner and Fernando Peire believe that the British customer has evolved over the past few decades. No longer do we maintain the stiff upper lip when service is crap. It seems as a nation we have finally learnt how to complain. Let us not forget that restaurants need feedback from their customers to learn from their mistakes.

The likes of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have sexed up the image of being a chef but little has been done to make the front of house role look so appealing to a wider audience. Jay Rayner linked this to the fact that being front of house is still not taken seriously as a career path but rather the cliché of a job to pay the bills before they go off to start a real ‘career’.

The front of house are the unsung heroes of the restaurant world. They are the eyes and ears for the kitchen. If, as Fernando Peire believes, the quality of service is going nowhere in this country then we need people to realise that a career as front of house is just as respectable as a career in law or accountancy.

Restaurant service has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years thanks to the amount of new restaurant openings and the quality of restaurateurs we now have. However, one thing has remained the same and that is the fact that great service is most definitely an art and not a science.

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