Last week I finally managed to pay a visit to one of this year’s most exciting London restaurant openings at The Quality Chop House at the top of the Farringdon Road near Exmouth Market. I am very familiar with its heavily-listed Victorian exterior and interior as it was a regular haunt of mine in the 1990s under the ownership of former patron Charles Fontaine. The window outside still advertises it as being a ‘Progressive Working Class Caterer’ but the clientele who pack out the original straight-backed pews and narrow benches within is more white collar than blue these days. In fact, they are more ‘linen jacket and Birkenstocks’ than white collar but the atmosphere is unstuffy and the service is relaxed but very well informed.
The fact that the re-opening of The Quality Chop House was deemed a hit by critics from the get go, with Giles Coren imploring in the Times ‘Hear me now do not make the mistake of dying before you have eaten here.’ is not altogether a surprise given the pedigree of the new owners. Josie Stead cut her teeth at Heston Blumenthal’s acclaimed ‘Dinner’ and her business partner Will Lander is the son of the FT’s restaurant reviewer Nicholas Lander and wine critic Jancis Robinson. The cuisine is probably best described as ‘Modern British Minimalist’ with the emphasis being on impeccably-sourced, seasonal ingredients being simply and deftly treated and attractively and enthusiastically served on vintage crockery. Whilst choice is limited everything is zingingly fresh and beautifully presented. Both blackboards and the wine list encourage you to check with staff for any recent arrivals or hidden gems. Unsurprisingly the wine list is a beauty. Not overly long or brutally short it has plenty of carefully-chosen, interesting selections with some chatty observations and very keen prices.
Almost inevitably ones expectations are too high when visiting a nascent establishment that has just been universally lauded by the scribes of the fourth estate. Not so on the occasion of my inaugural visit with three wine trade chums who, like me, spend more time than is reasonable browsing and sluicing in the Metropolis. We all agreed that the food was impeccable and the service charming beyond the call of duty. We kicked-off with some delicious charcuterie expertly-sliced to be almost translucent. This was followed by a large sharing plate of fat Wye Valley asparagus, the first ergo best thus far, of this (late) season alongside a wonderfully light Hollandaise. We also shared a main course of roast (hopefully goat) kids’ leg served on a bed of salty monksbeard (me neither but not unlike a shaggy samphire) with little bowls of new potatoes and raw spring vegetables. Continuing a theme we shared an unimpeachable plate of four excellent British cheeses of which I can only recall my favourite, local Montgomery cheddar although all were good. In long-standing wine trade tradition we sampled our own wares (German Riesling, white Saint Joseph and a venerable 1995 Right Bank claret) but on this occasion the BYO option was slightly superfluous given the quality of the in-house cellar.
I can’t wait to go back soon and often. Mr Coren’s advice being bang on the button.