Friday 4 July 2014

Quo Vadis, Soho

My husband has a long-standing crush on Jeremy Lee. I think it was born while watching Great British Menu, and then consolidated when Lee appeared alongside his friend and former boss Simon Hopkinson - one of Paul's other long-standing food crushes - on Simon Hopkinson Cooks. However it came about, it's meant Quo Vadis has been on his wishlist for a good couple of years.

Last week, our fortnightly date night coincided with a sister-in-law's birthday, so we decided to be a little more extravagant and finally go to book a table.

I was a bit early, having miscalculated how long I needed to spend in See Woo, which triggered the only real flaw in the evening. While they said it wasn't a problem, showed me to the table and fetched me a menu and a glass of prosecco, when Paul, and then Shiona arrived, they were shown to the table and abandoned without menus or drinks for quite some while. We seemed to have arrived right at a changeover point for staff and couldn't attract any attention.

Once we did flag down a waiter, however, service was smooth, the pacing of the meal was spot on and the food was divine.
Paul ordered a mysterious bottle of Italian pinot noir with a German label. We've had a few pinot neros recently, which have generally been quite hearty. This was much more delicate, and perfect for a warm night with a mixture of red meat and fish dishes.
 The smoked eel sandwich is a signature dish, which I believe Lee brought with him from his previous gig at Terence Conran's Blueprint Cafe, so Paul chose that as his starter.  He said it was sublime - creamy and smoky - although he wasn't sure what the sauce was. I'd have assumed horseradish but he didn't think so.
In an effort to moderate the amount I ate, I manfully rejected the offer of the delicious-smelling sourdough bread. Although this led to a pet peeve - they took away the bread and butter plate. I mean, it was a good thing, because it stopped me from changing my mind, but they can't know that I am not going to change my mind! That bit of virtue out of the way, I ordered a starter of artichoke, lemon and ricotta crostini.

Let me tell you, this was the most perfect dish I have eaten this year. Fragile, crunchy, oily toasts topped with beautiful fresh ricotta, tiny chargrilled artichoke hearts, citrus wedges and a tumble of toasted nuts and fried breadcrumbs. I think the cool kids are referring to such things as "savoury granola". I assumed, from the name of the dish, that the citrus wedges were lemon, but they were a delicate pink colour and had a mild, fresh flavour that didn't immediately scream "lemon". It was so beautifully balanced in flavour and texture, I could eat it every day for a month at least.
Like any good food blogger, I'd checked out the menu online before leaving the house. And I'd had a sudden burst of recommender's remorse. Shiona isn't a particularly adventurous eater. She prefers well-done meat, fairly lean, and no offal. Fish, but no other seafood. Fortunately there was a roast lamb with peas and polenta that appealed to her. I had a taste, and the polenta was pure witchcraft - crisp on top, with peas incorporated into the polenta, it had a soft, almost custardy texture in the middle. Definitely a dish to win over polenta naysayers. And the lamb was cooked slowly, until it was only barely pink in the middle, much more to my taste than very rare, French-style lamb.
Paul's main ambition in eating out, for the last year, I guess, has been to get a really large, well-cooked tranche of white fish. He's very specific about these things. He thought his brill with girolles and beans was good, but suffered by comparison with the smoked eel sandwich.
As for me, I was captivated by the idea of eating puffball mushrooms, having seen footage (possibly on a David Attenborough show) of the way they explode into spores. Fortunately this was a young mushroom, picked before the spores had formed, sliced and fried with lots of garlic  and served with delicious tender pork, asparagus and broad beans. Spring on a plate.

We shared a correct if somewhat dull rocket salad, delicious fat chips and a lovely dish of mixed courgettes with mint. And then took a deep breath and considered dessert.
While Shiona is, as I have mentioned, quite a particular eater, she does know what she likes and what she likes is chocolate. This interest is catered to by the St Emilion au chocolat - a rich, boozy, chocolate mousse cake on a base of macaroons, first introduced to the British plate by Elizabeth David, I believe. It looked absolutely heart-stopping, but she didn't seem to struggle to finish it.
I went for raspberry shortcake. Three discs of incredibly short hazelnut shortbread, sandwiching vanilla-y custard, cream and sweet fresh raspberries. A very good end to a meal - not too rich or substantial but extremely delicious.

The bill, with tip, came to £200. Which I thought was pretty good value really (a glass of prosecco, a beer, a bottle of not-their-cheapest wine, 2 starters, 3 mains, 3 side dishes, 2 desserts, a brandy and a glass of sherry). Even better value since the room is lovely, the tables spacious and Helena Christensen was having her dinner a couple of tables down.


June Burns said...

Great photos! Everything looks delicious. :)

Bettina Douglas said...

that looks like a great meal

Alicia Foodycat said...

June - thank you! Sadly my camera doesn't do well in low light.

Mother - it was. I thought you'd appreciate the provenance of Elizabeth David and Terence Conran! It was all very simple and very well considered.

Bettina Douglas said...

I am also intrigued by the German-Italian wine. The idea that the two very different cuisines overlap in that region is hard to comprehend without having been there.

grace said...

yum! the toasts, pork, and desserts look especially great! i always look at the menu online before i eat out and i get annoyed if it isn't posted! :)


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