The Conran group is an enigma. Having masterfully ridden the restaurant boom of the ’90s, it remains by far the largest operator of ‘quality’ restaurants in town (and now also has operations in New York, Paris and Stockholm). It has achieved all this despite having developed a reputation in many quarters for ‘conveyor belt dining’. Encouragingly, some locations – such as Aurora, by Liverpool Street station – have considerably raised their games in recent times.
The restaurants with prime sites, however – such as Le Pont de la Tour and Le Coq d’Argent – still often seem to trade on them. The newcomer we review today – with its prime first-floor setting, with views of the covered courtyard of the Royal Exchange – looked all set to be just such a place. For once, however, the omens were wrong. On our visit, the restaurant was offering the best sort of classic Conran formula – a homage to cuisine bourgeoise – done very well.
The biggest surprise of all was the bill: three courses, two glasses of wine (and service) did not quite breach the £40 barrier. Admittedly, this was eating from the set menu (£26), but this is a pretty authentic way to eat such fare, and the choices from the carte are in no way second-rate. The lunch comprised a dish of shrimp croquettes, ballotine of guinea fowl with a ‘gÃ¢teau’ of cabbage (much nicer than it sounds), and a parfait. The extensive Gallic wine list is not unreasonably priced. Service was actually quite personal, too, presumably benefiting from the human scale of the operation.
In fact, if there is a downside here it is that the dining room’s interesting configuration sometimes leads to the ‘rubbing backs’ syndrome. For price-sensitive discussions, it might be better to go elsewhere.