Gastro pub food has now left traditional pub grub stranded. The Thomas Cubitt is no ordinary public house, however, gastro or otherwise.
The Thomas Cubitt is a stylish venue that serves food downstairs with an impressive dining room upstairs. It’s named after the celebrated 19th-century master builder Thomas Cubitt, who not only designed and built much of the area around Belgrave Square, Queen Victoria’s palace of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and the east facade of Buckingham Palace, but who was also a pioneer in improving metropolitan town planning and reforming the treatment of building workers.
The site in Elizabeth Street is much like a town house, a collection of rooms with a ground floor bar at the front and a smaller room at the back. The main restaurant, the Dining Room, is upstairs, a perfectly proportioned space with original decorations and mouldings plus a very welcome open fire in an all too real fireplace complete with mantelpiece. With elegantly stylish chairs set around tables adorned with fine linen, and with old prints of Cubitt’s work displayed on the walls, this delightful room remains intact in its own period.
Catering for a smart, well-heeled clientele of both local business people and residents, the Thomas Cubitt is a place that is obviously always busy. A wintry lunchtime early in the week finds the downstairs bar ringing with happy drinkers and diners escaping from the freezing weather outside, whilst upstairs the ambience is just as clamorous with guests tucking into some fine winter-warming dishes. It’s not too often one sees such open enjoyment, the buzz of good conversation coupled with the serious and contented consumption of what is an excellent array of imaginative dishes. The impression is that the Thomas Cubitt’s customers are mostly regulars, some of whom may even drink and dine there on a daily basis.
The downstairs bar menu offers snacks and plates to share (rock oysters, squid, game terrine, potted Devon crab), lighter dishes such as fresh soup, smoked trout, an organic cheddar and thyme souffle, smoked salmon and leek tart plus salads. Main courses include the fish or the pie of the day, organic beef or vegetarian burgers, fish and chips, Cumberland sausages, lamb’s liver and bacon, rib eye steak or corn-fed chicken breast. On Sundays there’s an all-day roast with a choice of aged Castle Mey beef, Kilravock leg of lamb or organic Norfolk pork.
Upstairs in the dining room itself the menu is just as eclectic. Starters (£6.50 - £11) offer soup, cheddar and onion tart, pressed duck and pistachio terrine with raspberry jelly, quail and ham pie with chestnuts and parsnips, oysters and scallops. Main courses (£16.50 - £23) include belly of pork with bacon and black pudding, roasted fillet of beef, peppered wild venison, pan-fried stone bass and a vegetarian dish of squash stuffed with bulgar wheat and cranberries. The set lunch menu at two courses for £15 is equally interesting with a choice of soup, mackerel, or butternut and goat’s curd tart for starters, and veal kidneys and bacon, roasted chicken breast or sea trout for the main course.
From the a la carte menu, a starter of grilled octopus with a pepper stew and Charlotte potatoes (£9) makes a fine assembly of tastes and textures. The octopus flesh presented in thin strands is soft and giving and is so delicate that it could almost pass for chicken. The pepper stew adds a nice piquancy and the potatoes give it some bulk, all very acceptable on a winter’s day. From the set menu the mackerel is equally appetising. It is boned and pan-fried and served on potato salad. The intense flavour of the fish is further enhanced by a tomato and caper dressing that really gives it an edge.
The main course from the set menu of roasted chicken breast is exquisitely succulent and there is no dish better than roast chicken when, like this, it is cooked to perfection. It comes with colcannon, the favoured Irish combination of potato and cabbage, and a smoked tomato relish to up the ante in the flavour stakes. Meanwhile, from the main menu the tender, fat-free saddle of rabbit (£18.50) proves a wise choice. It’s stuffed with wild mushrooms and presented in slices with an accompaniment of Brussels sprouts, baby carrots and thyme jus. It has a delicate flavour that is most satisfying. Should you need any extra side dishes of vegetables, they are all priced at £4 and include mustard creamed leeks, honey and thyme roasted carrots and parsnips, and tender stem broccoli.
Desserts are all £7.50 and they avoid the sameness of many a pudding menu by offering such delights as an almond clementine cake of caramelised clementines with vanilla mascarpone, a passion fruit souffle with white chocolate ice cream, a spiced pear mille feuille with honeycomb ice cream, as well as a cheese plate (£11.50). The sea salt caramel and chocolate tart is as rich and delicious as it sounds and, served with a peanut parfait, will appeal to those with a very sweet tooth, whilst the baked custard tart, far from being one of those commercial pieces of dry pastry with a soggy interior of yellow gloop, is an oblong piece of pastry under a portion of the creamiest, toothsome confection. Slices of poached rhubard nestle on top – a perfect combination which is made even nicer by the accompanying stem ginger ice cream, the best flavour in the ice cream universe.
The wine list runs to 14 pages and includes bottles from everywhere – old world France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, and new world USA, Brazil, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, as well as at least one bottle from Lebanon. Prices start at £5 for a glass or from £14 for a half-litre carafe from a good range of five whites, five reds and a single rose. Otherwise the world of wine is yours for the asking, with prices to match from Beaujolais at £22 a bottle, Riesling at £29 and a French Pinot at £33. But you can go as high as £78 for a Montrachet, £106 for the Pouilly Fume or £300 for Pauillac 1er cru Mouton Rothschild. The Sauvignon blanc at £7 a glass, £20 a carafe or £28 for the bottle proves to be very acceptable. A long list of dessert and fortified wines, digestifs, malt whiskies and eaux de vie offers an endless choice of after dinner drinks and the downstairs bar also has its own list of cocktails.
The Last Word
Chef Phillip Wilson pays a fine tribute to the memory of Thomas Cubitt by presenting food that fits perfectly into the elegant architecture of the restaurant’s Elizabeth Street premises. One point should be noted, however: on account of its being a restaurant that is constantly busy, you will probably have to wait a while for your meal. However, if you are not in a hurry, the results are infinitely worth the inevitable air of expectation.