In the heart of Soho, a clubby Soho House group dining room serving simple English food realised to a consistently high standard; a first-day visit found an establishment already remarkably well into its swing.
ow does Richard Caring do it? As restaurant groups get bigger, there is – nearly two decades of Harden’s research suggests – an almost invariable tendency for them to get worse. Not so, it seems, with that Croesus of our times, Mr Caring, whose ever-growing empire includes Scott’s, Sheekey’s, The Ivy, Annabelle’s…
Only a few weeks ago, he opened a second Caprice, in New York, which – on the basis of the FT’s recent review – is already well up to the standards of the famously steady St James’s original.
When we arrive on this new dining room’s first day, Nick Jones – founder of the Soho House group, which is now mainly owned by Caring – is a discreet presence. Remarkably, he has little to do, as almost everything seems to be in perfect working order already.
The clubby dining room is not the most inspired we’ve ever seen and is quite tightly-packed, but it’s comfortable enough. Its style seems a touch traditional for a new establishment in the middle of Soho, but that doesn’t seem to be putting off the local media crowd, who are already very much in evidence.
The food – if not inspired or innovative – is very good too. Those individual hot loaves, with a big pat of butter, taste just like they did when Mark Hix – now finding success elsewhere – introduced them to the Caprice group.
The menu itself – apparently unchanging from day to day – is full of known and usual dishes, some very simple, but they are all very well done. The fish soup is intense. A mixed grill could be served a bit hotter… but then it is the first day. And an apple pie is pretty much faultless (as is the custard which comes with it).
Many people will be prepared to forego quite a lot of originality and ambition for such a high and consistent level of achievement. Especially when the wine list is wide-ranging, and offers some decent bottles at reasonable prices.
Admittedly, on our half-price preview day, service was not perfect, but it was trying hard, to the extent that we’d be amazed if it wasn’t running pretty much perfectly by the end of the first week.
There is, then, every sign that Mr Caring – ably supported by Mr Jones – has yet another hit on his hands.
How long can this relentless march go on? Well, if the market moves against plainish English food served in plainish English surroundings, Mr Caring might have quite a problem on his hands. But until then…