Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Quality Chop House reinvented

'Chop of the Day' at
The Quality Chop House

Built in 1870 this London 'chophouse' has been dishing up unpretentious food for most of its 140 year life.  The etched glass on one of the windows declares it to be a "Progressive working class caterer".  Back in the late 1880s its Farringdon Road location put it alongside the first 'council housing' to be provided in England.  Customers would have worked in the printing and brewing trades and on the railways, with a few white-collar workers in the mix, all considered 'respectably employed working men'.  These days they're more likely to come from banking houses, lawyers' chambers and Internet start-ups and, well, people like me.

The last notable incarnation of The Quality Chop House was when it was run by ex-Caprice chef Charles Fontaine in the 1990's.  Its star fading, it finally closed its doors in 2010.  The newly revitalised dining room, wine bar and shop has a promising line-up: Josie Stead, formerly GM at Heston's Blumenthal's Dinner, Will Lander ex-St John; and Head Chef Shaun Searley, late of Bistroteque, with, ex-St John Bread & Wine, Jackson Berg as Sous-chef. Having eaten in both the bar and the dining room, my expectations were more than met.

Within the severe restrictions of its Grade II Listing, the new owners have done a great job on the rooms.  Retaining the old light fittings, applying a coat of paint here, a layer of polish and much elbow grease there has turned it into a smart yet cosy destination on a far from glamorous main road into the City. If you don't know the area, The Quality Chop House could appear isolated but it's across the road  from The Eagle and just round the corner from Exmouth Market, home to Moro, Morito and Caravan.

The wine bar and shop feels like that little French bistro you hope to find in Paris, but never quite do -  all marble-topped tables, bentwood chairs and chequered flooring.  Here you can order a 'chop of the day' with a glass of good house wine for £13, or maybe a plate of charcuterie, cheese or a simple hot dish.  The fish pie I tried was exemplary.  The time-poor can pop in for a house-made pie or freshly made sandwich to take back to the office.

Lunch in the Dining Room is a short menu of 3 starters, 3 mains and 3 desserts.  Dinner is a set menu of, mostly, sharing plates, though if there's something you don't like they'll happily come up with an alternative for you. On our visit a small dish of Cornish squid, nicely smoked from the griddle, was simply served doused in good olive oil.  A plate of baked Jerusalem artichokes came too with a fantastic saffron aioli tying the two disparate dishes together.  Individual plates of goats' curd and silky caramelised shallots on toast with rocket leaves followed.  Going with the flow we drank the suggested glass of Agricola Cirelli (£6.50/£25 bottle)), its light nutty flavour paired well with each dish.  Three cuts of lamb followed; a platter of saddle stuffed with morcilla sat pink and luscious on a bed of bitter chicoria; a Lancashire hot-pot of shoulder and leg meat was damn good, spiked with nuggets of sweet root veg.  The suggested glass of Cotes de Nuits Villages Michel Mallard was good, but should be at £9.00 a glass (£39 bottle).  A slice of sticky date loaf with delicious butterscotch sauce and Ivy House Farm cream ended a fine meal.

The set dinner last night was £35 each.  If you have room, peak condition Neals Yard Dairy cheese is fitted into the meal at an extra £3 per cheese.  You could dine very well for £50 a head here if you didn't lose your head over the wine list.  Bottles are priced at what they consider a fair retail price with £10 or £20 added depending on the quality of the wine.  The house wines are very acceptable but oenophiles will surely have a good time.  Filtered tap water is continually topped-up and the table is set with an enviably eclectic selection of plates.

The original narrow pew-like seating, being part of the Listing, is still in place in the dining room but a nifty little padded extension worked perfectly well for me.  The tables are long and thin and can seat a party of six.  If you are two then expect to have another couple seated alongside.  We found it far from intrusive but hopefully the success, which will surely come, will not make them squeeze too many more customers in.  Back in the 1880s, however, I doubt if customer comfort would have been considered quite as carefully as ours was at this incarnation of The Quality Chop House.

The Quality Chop House
92-94 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3EA
Tel: 020 7278 1452

Dining Room open Mon-Sat 12-3pm & 6-11pm
Wine bar & Shop Mon-Sat 11am-midnight
(There's also a beautiful private room for up to 10 upstairs)