Fresh from the Blueprint Cafe, Jeremy Lee’s punchy and unfussy cooking breathes life back into this iconic Soho dining room.
Located in a building that was once home to Karl Marx (with the blue plaque to prove it), ‘classy’ may seem an inappropriate adjective for this historic Soho dining room. However, the recent refurbishment has reinvented the space, providing it with a genteel and stylish elegance.
The muted palette and pale parquet flooring are given colour by bounteous baskets of lemons and herbs at the entrance, vibrant vases of tulips and the wonderful stained glass windows that face Dean Street.
Caramel leather banquettes and a low ceiling remind you that this is also a members' club and the mirrored wall, beautifully bevelled and crackled, reflects soft light in to the room. The menus have been thoughtfully presented and are decorated with quirky, humorous lino prints.
The pre-theatre set, who recognise what great value for money their part of the menu represents (£17.50 for two courses or £20 for three), make way for young professionals and American tourists. As the evening draws on, the tables fill up and although it feels cosy, a very English sense of polite restraint prevails.
The atmosphere in which he serves it may be polite, but Jeremy Lee’s food is anything but. Bold and classic pairings of ingredients are masterfully managed with confident use of acidity.
Smoked eel, sandwiched between slices of toasted sour dough bread, is given added punch by a generous helping of horseradish and the accompanying slivers of pickled onion. Superbly fresh, sweet white crab meat is contrasted with a mustard-rich mayonnaise, which has a great consistency. Asparagus spears come as parcels - wrapped in super-fine sheets of feuille de brick pastry (similar to filo) and covered with an abundance of grated Parmesan.
Outside of the a la carte choices, the daily-changing menu offers other, comforting options, under categories such as ‘today’s pie,’ ‘shellfish’ and ‘the grill’. The Middlewhite breed of pig is best in show; moist slices come with baby artichokes, chopped parsley and are given texture by fried breadcrumbs. Braised veal is so soft and tender it doesn’t need the sharp Laguiole knife provided. The Jersey Royals that surround the meat are slightly over-seasoned but the chips (ordered to go with the pork) are perfectly appointed, with a glass-like crunchy exterior and fluffy middle.
The St Emilion au Chocolat is a highlight of the well executed pudding list; the dense texture of the delightfully rich chocolate and macaroon mix is given a subtle fruitiness though careful use of brandy. Coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce come with three triangular wafer-like biscuits, dramatically pointing out from the dish. Monmouth coffee is used to make an excellent espresso, and a wonderfully fragrant infusion of lemon verbena leaves, supplied by the Rare Tea Company, is a refreshing way to finish.
France, Spain and Italy dominate the wine list at Quo Vadis. The English are represented in the sparkling department, though, and a glass of Gusbourne Estate 2007 blancs de blancs, available for a reasonable £8.50 a glass, is a real Kentish treat. There is an excellent selection of wines by the glass, plus a few half bottles and, as you might expect given the restaurant’s Spanish owners, sherry has been afforded considerable attention, with the eponymous amontillado ‘quo vadis’ muy viejo b. rodriguez la-cave on the list for £7.50 a glass.
The Last Word
A happy meeting of minds between the Hart Brothers (Fino, Barrafina) and Jeremy Lee has taken Quo Vadis in the right direction, and put it back on the culinary map.