Saturday, 5 June 2010
The Restaurant at St Paul’s – London
Cast your mind back to my last post. Remember I talked about how expectation could be such a bitter slap in the face when it comes to restaurants not delivering (oh ok, If we’re being pedantic, I likened it to a kick in the plums).
But, I also mentioned that sometimes, the opposite is true…the heavens shift, the stars align and that restaurant you had no real expectation of shines, it delivers, it surprises.
Last weekend, almost as if designed to illustrate this point nicely The Restaurant in the Crypt of St Pauls Cathedral confounded any expectation of mediocrity I may have harboured, and was bloody fabulous. Full Stop.
From start to finish, everything was right and I enjoyed a very pleasant lunch there indeed.
Located in the crypt, mere metres away from the elaborately marble ensconced but mouldering remains of this island nation’s most revered and celebrated heroes and worthies, this really is an atmospheric place to dine. The room itself is pleasant, surprisingly airy and light, decorated in a pleasing contemporary manner but it’s the little touches here and there that make all the difference. Riedel glassware, old mismatched knives and forks, lovely linen napkins.
Settled in and scanning down the menu, the thing that really impressed me the most was the refreshing Britishness of it all. Every ingredient that this country is producing right now and does bloody well was represented somewhere… Rhubarb, Montgomery Cheddar, Samphire, Asparagus, Jersey Royals, West Sussex Lamb, Cornish Grey Mullet, Scottish Salmon, Regent Park Honey… all backed up by a nice selection of English Wines.
It lifts the heart to see such a well-put together menu, I almost felt like pulling on some cricket whites, unfurling an unfeasibly large Union Jack and striding around the restaurant bellowing 'Rule Britannia’. Which makes it all the more surprising to discover that this excellent, most British of all menus has been put together and cooked by an Australian Head Chef, Candice Webber.
So, the scene was set…. atmospheric room, nice little touches, superb menu showcasing top quality ingredients, but how was the food?
My starter of Portwood Farm Asparagus, Pancetta, poached Duck Egg and Montgomery cheddar was delicious, simply cooked as befitting such quality ingredients, not much to say about it other than very competently done. The egg perfectly poached, the pancetta perfectly crisp, the asparagus perfectly cooked…perfect then.
E’s starter of Bedfordshire Beetroot, marinated Artichokes, Quails egg and truffle dressing was a nicely portioned starter, which again was very competently put together, great produce handled with a delicate touch. Very light, very subtle and delicious.
At this point, and going against the established order of things a bit, we realised that we’d like to try the bread. Some was swiftly delivered with a pat of Jersey butter. The bread was organic; it was baked in London, it was good.
Back on track, my dish of West Sussex Lamb rump, smoked Garlic, Shallot and Spinach arrived, beautifully pink and tender, exactly as it should be. It tasted great.
The recurring theme with the food so far, and present again here in this dish, was how competently, yet simply cooked everything was. Nothing fancy, nothing showy – just lovely ingredients shining.
As I can’t get enough of them when they’re in season, we’d ordered a bowl of Jersey Royals as an accompaniment.
E’s main of Loch Duart Salmon, Sorrel Veloute, Samphire and Preserved Lemon was an interesting, intelligently put together plate of food. The individual components being fairly sour when eaten independently, but when combined together, the tang of the sorrel veloute and the sourness of the preserved lemon worked really well with the Salmon for a really nice clean taste.
So, onto the pudding.
I only had eyes for one thing…. I’d been tipped off by a couple of people that the Regents Park Honey Ice and Gingerbread Sandwich was immensely good. So good in fact, that the waiter recommended it himself, without prompting. Which is always a good sign.
Well, what can I say other than it lived upto the promise. Oh my God, it was bloody gorgeous, honey ice cream (produced from the Cathedrals own hives in Regents Park), sandwiched between moist gingerbread and drizzled with some more of the same aforementioned honey. Wow.
E’s dessert of Custard Tart, Rhubarb and clotted cream although not in the same league as the gingerbread and honey manna from heaven that I was tucking into across the table, was very nicely cooked. I wouldn’t have had any complaints if I’d ordered that instead.
The Restaurant at St Paul’s is a real gem.
The location is second to none, the menu, and the ingredients used are almost a lesson in how British food should be done. The service was great, a minor problem with ‘E’s dessert being politely, swiftly and competently dealt with. In the Gingerbread and Honey Ice cream dessert they have a signature dish people should be falling over themselves to sample…. oh, and did I mention that 2 courses are £20 and 3 courses £24?
If you ever take foreign visitors to London for lunch, and want to take them somewhere really British, where they can get to experience some of the beautiful ingredients this Island has to offer… take them here, and feel your heart swell with pride.
The Restaurant at St Pauls
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Churchyard
Telephone: 020 7248 2469