Inspired by the grand hotel grill restaurants of yore, a decidedly English re-launch of the long-established Soho restaurant; the straightforwardness of the formula arguably risks tipping into a general lack of excitement, but it’s a plush and welcoming place, with quality, no-nonsense fare.
ith only two very long-established obvious exceptions (Wiltons SW1 and Rules WC2), long-running London restaurants, except in hotels, are generally never English. In Soho, in particular, the tradition was long for Italian restaurants, and it was just such an establishment that Peppino Leoni launched in 1926. The premises – originally called Leoni’s Quo Vadis – have generally traded (except, briefly, under MPW’s management) with an Italian slant ever since.
Until now that is. Brothers Sam and Eddie Hart – known for their two grand and successful tapas bars, Fino W1 and Barrafina W1 – have decided to give us a full-blown English restaurant for once, taking inspiration from hotel grill restaurants of yore. Perhaps it's something to do with having grown up in an hotel (Mama and Papa Hart own and run Rutland’s plush Hambleton Hall).
The result is an elegant room, traditionally decorated and appointed (albeit with some modern artworks). Cloths are white linen. Cutlery is – all too rare – English. This is no ’30s pastiche, but the tables probably would not have looked so different 70 years ago. Or, to put it another way, the general impression is akin to that at the recently launched grill at Brown’s Hotel (The Albemarle), albeit on a less swanky scale.
The food similarly bespeaks a straightforward and very English approach. In fact, although we don’t particularly go a bundle on ‘fancy’ food, we found ourselves scanning the menu for much that could really be called cooking. The menu is largely composed of simple, unadorned protein. Oysters, beef, salmon, turbot, lamb… Even qualified, the descriptions rarely need many words. (In fact, we wouldn’t have minded a few more evocations of provenance and so on; the description “Cheese”, in particular, is direct to a point bordering on unhelpfulness.)
Dishes are cooked and presented to as high a standard as one could hope, and portions are generous. The aim is admirably simple. If there’s a gripe, it’s that prices are sufficiently high that perhaps one might expect more.
Our main courses of turbot and salmon were both done to a turn. Sides of chips, tomato salad and spinach were all of a high standard. A starter of tomato essence with crayfish – one of the menu’s most complicated dishes, as it turned out – was very deftly realised. Foie gras terrine perhaps a little less so. Puddings – tarts of chocolate and treacle – were good without being earth-shattering, as was filter coffee.
Service is friendly and, generally, efficient, although in these early days there were occasional longeurs. We did feel, however, that at these sort of prices the staff should have known who was having what.
The cover charge of £2 – a rarity nowadays – turns out to be very reasonable value, comprising as it does filtered water (we quite liked the sparkling), olives (unremarkable) and bread (very good, baked in-house). Not everyone likes cover charges, but we can’t help feeling that they’re infinitely preferable to being sold every extra.
Overall, then, this is a thoroughly good place, if one that – for us – fell short of excitement. It certainly has a handy location, and will be useful for business entertaining, and the more grown-up sort of pre- and post-theatre dining. And, for those who just can’t get enough of it, the charming club above – aimed at Soho’s movers and shakers – is still taking applications for membership.