The Northerner and I were fortunate enough to be there (or there about) when those pioneering pubsters decided that stringy roasts and overcooked veg was not what punters were looking for. Cue French brasserie-style cooking taking a grip on the UK's pubs, and nearly every home in the country being familiar with exotic offerings such as fishcakes, Thai curries, and moule frites by the end of the nineties. The flipside of this revolution was the spawning of the gastro chains - All Bar One, Slug and Lettuce, et al. But I'll leave that particular gripe for another day.
Two of the finest proponents of what was a once derided, but now celebrated, culinary art form are Tom and Ed Martin, the brains behind the superb offerings of the Gun in Docklands, the Botanist on Sloane Square and my personal favourite, the White Swan, in Fetter Lane.
Their latest offering is the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms in Moorgate. Housed in the original home of the Whitbread Brewery, the team have done a great job of turning what was a fairly rundown space into something quite special.
The green exterior makes it look like any other City pub. Entering from the bar side and you can see the transformation, from the leather-topped (and vibrantly busy) bar area, through to the vast dining room. Hues of green and brown dominate the interior from the polished fitted wooden floors through to the modern yellow-green leather chairs. The original windows have been restored to give them, in the words of the Northerner, a school building finish, albeit with a restaurant twist.
On the night we visited, the punters were very City, with a mix of well-heeled Europeans who were probably staying at the connected hotel. The waiting staff were charm personified and very good looking to boot. I know it shouldn’t make a difference, but it does.
The Northerner started with potted ham hock, parsley and baby gherkins which was rich but light, perfectly seasoned and filling. I went for the Lincolnshire smoked eel, with celeriac remoulade, Charlotte potatoes and beetroot. The eel was simply fabulous and the sweetness of the beetroot complemented it perfectly. For mains, the Northerner had the grilled Cornish sole with dill butter and tender stem broccoli which was moist and melt-in-your-mouth in texture. I went for the stuffed Middlewhite pork loin, accompanied by Clonakilty black and white pudding and a roasted Braeburn apple. The combination of these flavours worked perfectly. The pork loin was well seasoned and delicately cooked. The herb infused white pudding and blood rich black pudding were delicious. We shared a blueberry cheesecake and yoghurt for dessert which was marshmallow light and rich berry in flavour.
The charming Sommelier recommended a bottle of Shiraz from New Zealand’s Elephant Hill Estate in Hawkes Bay, which had the dryness of your big French wines, but the lightness that you usually associate with a Pinot Noir. Divine, in other words. We also started with a few cheeky champagne cocktails as you do, which were perfect aperitifs.
The Northerner and I can be a tough crowd when it comes to eating out, but we had to admit defeat on that front. There was nothing which we could criticise. Apparently it’s pulled more than 140 covers a day since it opened in early June. With the quality of food and service they deliver, you can see why. It’s good to know that some trends are here to stay.