Brilliantly located for business, a Fleet Street brasserie in the classic Conran mould; it serves all your favourite Gallic dishes, quite well done, in surroundings which are a touch grander than the menu really demands.
It would be unfair to say that, when it comes to restaurants, Sir Terence Conran has only ever had one idea. However, anyone who had been to Bibendum in its early days, over 20 years ago, and also to his new Fleet Street operation, might have some difficulty in discerning exactly what progress he has made in the intervening decades.
Bibendum made its name – in a London restaurant scene where quality operations were still rare – serving bourgeois Gallic cooking in an elegant modernist setting. The aims of Lutyens are pretty much identical. Or arguably, rather less advanced. There’s a slightly pretty-pretty element to the styling of the main dining room that we found at odds both with the name-check to Sir Edwin (whose masterworks include New Delhi and the Cenotaph) and the businesslike location.
Otherwise – as at Sir Tel’s new Boundary in Shoreditch – this is a dining room where bistro/brasserie classics are done well, if not remarkably, in surroundings which are arguably just a bit too grand for the menu. Thus, our meal was a pretty good fish soup (perhaps a touch watery), very good rognons de veau, and a slightly flabby tart redeemed by an excellent compote of red fruits. Our guest’s meal was similarly a bit variable in realisation, but also most satisfactory overall.
Good service has not been a Conran hallmark over the years – and this remains true at the D&D London group which now runs most of the ‘Conran’ restaurants – but since Sir Tel set out on his own again (with long-time lieutenant Peter Prescott), efforts do seem to have been made on this front. Indeed, the service at Lutyens – and the express concern for our well-being – was almost overwhelming.
Never before – never – have we been greeted by name (well, by the booking name) before we’d even crossed the threshold of the establishment concerned. How does the doorman do that? We had an early booking, admittedly, but still it was impressive. And the place was encouragingly busy later in the service, so surely he can’t keep the trick going?
Anyway, here’s the curious thing. This upshot is that this turns out to be the first Conran restaurant since Bibendum we’ve ever felt the slightest desire to go back to. Perhaps, in the end, the old certainties aren’t so bad after all.