It is impossible to remain unaffected by the stunning hall of 1 Lombard Street Brasserie; history echoes in a truly atmospheric dining experience.
Step into 1 Lombard Street Brasserie and you can hardly avoid being impressed by the large hall, illuminated by large windows and by a beautiful, wide, domed skylight with four smaller ones at the corners. Spaces like these seem firmly anchored in another epoch, when they were built for the Victorian gentry. But now, with contemporary austerity, the sheer price of premises and the general subdivision of property we're more accustomed to these places being turned into small restaurants, or simply taken over by chains boasting the wherewithal to lease such grandiose buildings.
The venue here really is remarkably beautiful. A central bar provides for your drinking needs, while you can also sit at tables, some booths along the wall and a few tall tables near the entrance. The furnishing is contemporary but classic and the whole space exudes a certain respect of its previous incarnation as a bank right in the middle of the financial district.
The atmosphere is not at all as reverent as you might imagine. Despite the immaculate white tablecloths and the suited and booted clientele, 1 Lombard Street Brasserie is as lively as the best Victorian train station tea house. People chat and enjoy themselves as the impressive staff move around casting a watchful eye to grasp any tiny hint of requirement. The service is nothing but impeccable, with staff deferential and knowledgeable whilst also boasting that rare knack of impeccable timing - they pop up just when you need them.
Head chef Juri Ravagli has created a concise but impressively effective menu, with Mediterranean and exotic influences that appeal to those looking for well-crafted traditional dishes and cooking methods, with intermittent unexpected twists.
Within the hot starters (£7.50-£18.50), you can pick from roasted chestnut soup, squab pigeon and an superbly executed deep-fried squid. The cold starters (£4.25-£14.50) and salads (£7.75-£16.50) include a beautiful three beetroot salad with stilton dressing, and a great tuna tartare with wasabi.
The mains are structured around steak (£26.50-£30), fish (£17-£34.50) and other meat and poultry dishes (£13-23). The lemon chicken breast on couscous is not particularly impressive but the roasted fillet of monkfish restores the balance. The excellent fish is set off perfectly by an accompanying mango salsa and coconut salad.
From the desserts (£7-£8), the nougat parfait with passion fruit sorbet successfully adds another exotic touch, while the winter berries with caramelised nuts is a wonderfully British ending to an understated international meal.
You can choose from more than 50 bottles (not counting sweet and fortified wines), many of which are also available by the carafe and glass. And with a bracket of between £22 and £140, it's a pretty flexible list for the pocket, too. The suggestion of a Gavi and a Sauvignon Blanc are excellent: aromatic and totally different from one another. House bottles are affordable, while the new and old world lists collect some of the best vintages from both. The Brasserie is a suitable location for a sophisticated celebration so it is perhaps no surprise there is more than a dozen champagne bottles on offer (£30-£250), on a list augmented by eau de vie, grappa, Cognac, Calvados, Armagnac, sherry, port and Madeira.
The Last Word
1 Lombard Street Brasserie is a fantastic venue, steeped in local history. However the robust, quality cooking shows that the food certainly doesn't play second fiddle.