[A sad note: we are now informed that this restaurant closed on Friday 22 March - the day upon which this review was originally scheduled to appear. We are sorry for the staff, who were particularly charming.] A Westminster institution, recently re-invented as a local brasserie; it’s hardly startling, but its all-round virtues make it a prime destination in a part of town which remains curiously bereft of mid-priced alternatives.
In a city currently, bizarrely, awash with fashionable openings, the role of restaurants which may merely be described as ‘useful’ is in danger of being overlooked. Nowhere does this seem more true than in the benighted purlieus of the Mother of Parliaments: the area bounded, crudely, by the Palace of Westminster, Tate Britain and Victoria Station may be away with new apartment developments, some of them quite ambitious, but its restaurant scene (like that of neighbouring Pimlico) remains curiously lifeless.
Nowhere might this be thought to be more apparent than at Shepherd’s – the famously conspiratorial and convivial British restaurant, well within the Division Bell zone, which is somehow inextricably linked in popular consciousness with phrases such as ‘backbench rebellion’.
Here, though, there have recently been some signs of life. Brian Clivaz (under whose care Mayfair’s Art’s Club became something of a ‘destination’) took over at the Langan’s group not so long ago, and a wind of change has been a-blowing.
At this, the group’s age-old outpost on the ground floor of a Deco-ish apartment block, carpets have been ripped up, banquette seating removed, and the whole feel ‘opened up’. (Apparently, they tried to rid the place of tablecloths too, as still shown in the publicity photograph, but that turned out to be a step too far.) The feel of the resulting dining room, abetted by some dreadful Muzak on our arrival, can be a bit ‘hotel coffee-shop’, but those not in pinstripes or blazers will no longer get the feeling that they don’t quite fit in.
The menu has similarly loosened up. You can still find the sort of consoling dishes that nanny used to make but the aim is now more ‘local brasserie’ than ‘stuffy institution’. And indeed, this turns out to be the sort of place you can very comfortably slip in to for a rich bowl of soup (with some decent bread rolls) and a proper burger cooked ‘medium’. (Well, that’s what Westminster Council likes them to call it anyway.)
Most amiable staff compete a picture which makes the place a sort of mid-priced all-rounder which is pretty much unique in these parts. Even if it seems unlikely that crowds of bloggers will be competing to hail its re-emergence any time soon.