Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Quo Vadis

Of London’s cult and craze dishes, only a select few actually break out of the Twitterverse and small pond of bloggers and foodie obsessives and into mainstream consciousness, such as The Dead Hippy burger or Zucca’s veal chop. But some of them are pretty niche and obscure and destined to remain so: in this case, Quo Vadis’ smoked eel sandwich, which was extremely du jour after this Soho landmark reopened under the steer of Jeremy Lee (incidentally one of the most ethereally enjoyable people on Twitter).

However this pig doesn’t go too much for smoked eel – the merest contemplation of the smell gives me a tiny shiver – but luckily Lee’s assiduously changing seasonal menu had plenty to get stuck into. The menu itself is a witty, monochrome British rendition of the typical Parisian bistro menu. There are various compartments, boxes and fonts dotted around with weekly specials, bar snacks and other daily specials, and not least the Pie of the Day (£17), as well as a Middlewhite dish and an Onglet.

I’ve always found Quo Vadis a little intimidating. I guess it’s one of those things where the longer something has been part of an establishment (in this case, old Soho) and you’ve not been, the more exclusive and elusive it can seem to you. It always seemed very grown up and elitist. Although I suppose the opposite can be true: certainly Aberdeen Angus Steakhouses have evaded me too and I’m under no illusions about those.

But on entering, QV felt instantly accessible. The staff were friendly and the foyer was softened by the presence of baskets of lemons and vast pots of plants and flowers on a big old wooden table. 

Even though I’d been politely informed about a 2 hour table limit, we were offered a drink at the bar (as we’d arrived bang on time for our reservation, I would consider such an offer an extension or postponement of table time) which was in fact a decent sized, comfortable room rather than the usual holding pen. Our two house cocktails (one a gin and Dubonnet Queen mother style, and one a Campari and orange concoction) were well-made, strong and below £10.

Once we were at table (m’lord), it was such an effortlessly pleasant experience. Service was fantastic throughout, we were offered tap water, the wine list contained a couple of reds which they suggested served chilled (the Piglet is stubbornly avowing a rosé free summer so this was serious brownie point material) and the warm, fresh sourdough was amazing. 

I had a salad of Cornish Yarg with broad beans, pea and mint, for about £7. This was a great dish, summery and fresh.

Piglet’s rabbit livers defiled my plate of green freshness and the botanic surroundings (the dining room is also full of beautiful plants) by resembling, I’m sad to say, three deformed chicks on a skewer. Supposedly tasted decent though, but I can’t comment.

That evening’s pie was rabbit and duck – a combination I don’t think I’ve seen away from the pet food aisle, but tempting nonetheless. And it was fantastic – endless chunks of tender cuts of rabbit and duck in a gamey broth, and great pastry. I could barely finish it. The accompanying mash was creamy and perfectly seasoned too.

The Middlewhite (£19.50) consisted of three generous slabs of pork with some salad leaves. The meat was excellent quality and expertly cooked. Sides were a good spinach. No chips on this occasion as Ibiza looms…


The dessert menu was one of the most appealing I’ve seen in a long time, usually I have no problems sifting down to my 'something with berries and a dollop of vanilla'. And yes, in the end I did go for  the shortcake stack with vanilla cream and raspberries, which was absolutely delicious. 

The pear sorbet went down extremely quickly across the table too. I was pleased with the lack of choice here – sometimes ice cream and sorbet selections can be Biblical and no better for it.

After dinner, and a very reasonable bill all considered, we moved back into the bar and had some more cocktails. My favourite, the New York Sour, was exquisitely made (with Woodford Reserve, about £11) and Piglet’s sweet monstrosity; the amaretto sour, was supposedly also a great rendition.
Overall I had a brilliant meal at Quo Vadis, and as I can’t find anything to fault it, I won’t try too hard. I was taken by the efforts to soften the environment and any possible preconceptions people might have; banter with the bartenders, the greenery, flexibility of service – where I imagine a more formal dining experience once occurred. 

It didn’t feel like a place where moneyed foreign people frequent on their limited itineraries around Central London, or where people take their northern parents on a celeb-hunting treat. It actually reminded me a little of the sadly missed Brackenbury out in Hammersmith, but grander. And wittier. 

This place is tightly managed and the daily changing details are impressive. The graphics on the menus and bar tablecloths are most entertaining, especially for fans of B-movies. The al fresco seating, clubby bar area and solid bar food menu mean I’ll be back on a regular basis. I love Dean Street Townhouse but not for a meal and the bar area is only good for pairs.

And in case anybody was curious, despite having taken our table late and having a slow dinner, we still we weren’t asked to vacate at any point. And once I enquired about whether we could move through for drinks, a reservation card was whacked down instantly.

Food – 8/10
Drink – 9/10
Service - 9/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 9/10 (volunteered and consistently topped up)
Staff Hotness – 8/10

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