Bo Drake

At it’s best you don’t notice service. It’s a seamless part of the dining experience, one you only remember in recollection. A good waiter will first of all know the menu and know what to recommend because they have tried it, not because they’ve been told to up-sell that dish. But most importantly, a good waiter knows when to leave you alone. It seems so simple, and yet so few restaurants get this part right. There’s fine dining restaurants that seem so eager to justify the service charge that they do everything except wipe your arse for you. Then there’s the restaurants with staff who pull up a chair and ask you so many overfamiliar questions that you end up checking your starter for their signs of their bodily fluids. And then you get the worst of them all. The waiters who are like incessant little flies, pestering you from the moment you enter, literally turning the table as you are still sitting there. Tonight, Bo Drake fell into this last rung in hell.

From the moment we sat down, we were given a menu and immediately asked if we were ready to order. No, we’d like to at least have a look at the menu first. Maybe some water. A minute later and he was back. We sent him away again, or rather he hovered three foot behind me waiting for the next moment I dared to open my mouth for conversation with my partner- a sure signal I had made my mind up. On the third attempt we gave in and ordered our dishes- which given how concise the menu is, was just about everything worth trying. Three minutes later the food came. Yes a whole 180 seconds from the waiter writing it down in his pad, to the order being passed to the kitchen, to the chefs cooking 7 different dishes, to it being put down on our table. This is no exaggeration. Needless to say not one of the dishes served was hot.

Having now ordered and been served, I could take the restaurant in. Bo Drake clearly took its design inspiration from what was hot last year- brown paper menus, matt-grey walls and exposed pipes. Minimal, cold, and drab- something between a prison cell and a pervert’s sex dungeon. With it’s menu and look, it is in the same vein as restaurants like Flesh & Buns and Pitt Cue Co, but it lacks their boozy basement buzz and the food doesn’t pack as much of a punch.

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First up KFC (Korea fried chicken) with soy garlic, grapes and rosemary (£8.50) which would have the Colonel turning in his grave over this poor pun on his classic. At their best Korean chicken wings blow your balls off. They’re red hot dirty finger food, something Flesh & Buns have nailed. Here the skin was soggy (maybe from standing pre-made on the pass for the last thirty minutes?) and they had no kick of spice. Bo Ssam was smoked pulled pork with kimchi (£14) that you forked into lettuce parcels, although it looked more like a can of cat food that had slurped onto the plate. The smoke was lacking and the meat was without that fatty goodness you associate with pulled pork. Smoked duck bao (£9) were tasty little bites, but not the best I’ve had.

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From the specials striploin beef served rare with truffled shiitake, tofu cream and shizou (£18) was a dish that you’d get in a restaurant like Zuma and happily pay twice the price. Cooked perfectly with good clean flavours, albeit served lukewarm, it showed that the kitchen can create moments of magic here. Only moments though, as a side of smoked aubergine with a miso and vine tomato water (£7) restored the order- it was like slurping down smokey slugs. Sweet potato fries with kimchi island dressing (£3.80) were better, but only because the pickled vomit flavour of the kimchi wasn’t coming through.

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It wouldn’t take an imaginative chef to pad out the dessert list. A choice of three was cut to two as the most appealing one- passion fruit brulee- was unavailable. At 7.30pm on a Friday? Maybe it had melted on the pass having been prepped three days before? That left a choice between sesame soft serve ice cream or apple tarte tatin (which really didn’t fit with the rest of the menu). It was a tarte tatin cooked by a Korean kitchen. Uninspired and out of place. A dribble of soft-serve vanilla ice cream did nothing to lift it.

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Having now eaten there, I can see that Bo Drake is an after work place where you go for a quick bite and a few drinks. Had I gone expecting this, I might have been more forgiving for being rushed through a meal in 45 minutes. I know London restaurants like to turn tables, but less than an hour is really pushing it. It was all bang on-trend with the decor and style of cooking, but food like this should be vibrant and punchy that makes you want to drink. The only thing making me want to drink more here was the shite service.

4/10 (££)

6 Greek St, London W1 4DE

Bó Drake Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Similar: Flesh & BunsPitt Cue Co

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Donostia

San Sebastian, or Donostia to use the Basque name, is the best place on earth to dine. The backstreets are lined with pintxo bars, and a traditional bar crawl here stretches dinner across as many restaurants you can manage. It makes dining into an event, and with food so affordable it is one the locals seem to do every evening. It took less than a day in San Sebastian for me to start questioning whether life in the rat race in London is really worth it. Grafting your balls off for an Itsu or Pret to take home with you at the end of the day. In just three days I tried fifteen different restaurants and around fifty different dishes, not one of them hurting the pocket. It was such an inspiring gorge that it made me consider packing it all in and either moving there or opening up a restaurant of my own. The owners of Donostia in London had this same sentiment and took the leap and opened up their very own place. Housed on Seymour Place, which with Vinoteca, The Lockhart and the recent addition of Lurra (by the same owners) is as close as you can get to one of those San Sebastian foodie backstreets. Try a food crawl here though and you’ll soon be broke.

Donostia has a clean white decor with light wood which would verge on being cold if were not for the open kitchen that you can overlook whilst dining. It’s a more sophisticated restaurant than Barrafina which shares a similar layout, and attracts a less lively crowd, which no doubt is mainly down to it’s location wedged between Marleybone and Marble Arch, which lacks the natural buzz of Soho. This being London, prices sadly aren’t only a couple of quid a dish, and instead quickly move into double figures, something that’s always difficult to swallow no matter how good the tapas is. The menu is simple, with emphasis put on the ingredients, but it could have been more padded out on the meat and fish section.

Padron peppers (£4.90), pan con tomate (£3.60) and a plate of good Iberico ham (£19.80) were all safe crowd pleasers with high quality of ingredients, although the meagre portions (there were only 7 peppers!) left you wanting more.

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Octopus in a Basque marinade ate like more of a bar snack than a dish on its own, but again was faultless in its simple execution and presentation.

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A single courgette flower stuffed with goat’s cheese and a drizzle of honey left you wanting a full bouquet of the things to munch through. A classic tortilla was served cold and was a needed bit of stodge, although I do prefer when they are served piping hot with a gooey centre.

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Iberico pork shoulder with romesco sauce (£14.20) was served pink and was an example of the confidence the chefs here have in letting the ingredients do all of the talking. Anything else added to this dish would have lessened its success. Still hungry we ordered a lovely dish of monkfish with black rice (£13.20) that left the teeth looking like you’d been guzzling oil.

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There was no real fault in the food, and each dish was executed as it should be with minimum fuss. Although at over £50 a head is expensive, that’s now common ground for Spanish cooking in London. What perhaps tainted my experience was that I went expecting, or rather hoping, for the same experience as I had in San Sebastian. There were certain nods to the Basque spirit, such as the goblets of gin and tonic, but overall it lacked the warmth and buzz that I associate with great Spanish restaurants.

7/10 (£££)

10 Seymour Pl, London W1H 7ND
Donostia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Similar: Barrafina

(Below are photos of food  in San Sebastian)

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Duck & Rice

Chinese food- the British staple. Ten pints in the local followed by a chicken chow mein and some bright red gloopy meat dish. Food we’ve all grown up on. We’re rarely sober when eat Chinese. We might start sober, but by the end of the meal we all have a tinfoil box of leftovers tucked under one arm, are grabbing a handful of mints from the bowl by the door, and shaking hands with the owner- Kevin- who we are of course on first name terms with, and promising to see him at the same time next week and asking if he can keep our special table free. We’ll all swear that we have the best Golden Dragon or Pekking Palace, that serves the best Number 23 in the country, but we all know it’s the same flavourless crap wherever we go.

Well now we can kill two ducks with one stone. Alan Yau, the creator of Hakkasan and Yautcha, has opened Duck & Rice in Soho. Ignore all the pretentious bollocks it will throw at you about it being a modern public house, this is a boozer (albeit it a £5.40 a pint boozer) that doubles up as a classic British-Chinese restaurant. The bottom end of Berwick Street (with the exception of Polpetto) had previously only been for a certain type of dining, not one you too proudly write a review on. Thankfully there’s more reasons to go now. Duck & Rice has taken over from a grotty pub called the Endurance, which I passed daily without ever having the urge to go in. It was the type of place that would serve you a lukewarm glass of piss and still charge you Soho prices. I’ve read other reviews where people whinge about this old Soho classic closing down, and protest that it’s another sign of how Soho and London and the whole fucking world is losing its true identity. These are the no doubt the same people who bombard you with out socialist flyers about rent prices as soon as you get off the overground anywhere East. Well thankfully Duck & Rice has priced them out the market.

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The restaurant has an imposing glass and metal frontage- something a restauranteur can only do if he has absolute confidence in his style and money in the bank- both of which Alan Yau no doubt has in abundance. Inside, once you get past the awkwardly placed huge Pilsner Urquell copper tanks, the bar area is lavishly done out, with shiny metal surfaces and walls that resemble Chinese teapots. It’s the most deliberately constructed restaurant I have been to in a long time, the price of which they are seemingly clawing back with the elevated food prices.

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The menu is crowded, just like every other Chinese menu in the country, and has most of the greatest hits on there- including its very own aptly named ‘Number 23’. From the dim sum we tried the char siu bao (£4.50), Shu Mai (£6.50) and Har Gau (£6) which were all fine, but didn’t have a touch of their own to make them stand out. The Sesame Toast £6.50) did, and was a world away from the greasy flavourless triangles that are usually served up. A whole prawn served on a crispy piece of toast finally made me understand exactly what the appeal is with this dish.

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Salt & Pepper Squid (£10.50) was a little dry and unremarkable for the price. It worked well with the beer but could have done with a fiery dipping sauce. Shredded Pork Crispy Noodles (£10.50) could have been crispier and were heavily salted (lets hope it wasn’t MSG). Mains were the real strong dishes here, first the House Duck (£24 for a half) did the house name proud. We were told that it would be left to rest for fifteen minutes so that the meat is served lukewarm. It meant the juices had flowed back through the duck, making it more tender and flavoursome.

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A whole Crab with curry sauce was the standout dish of the night. A huge plate of legs and flesh covered in a deeply coloured thick curry sauce. If you’re on a date, ordering this is essentially cock blocking yourself- I still smelt of curry on Monday morning. The sauce was too strong for the delicate flavour of the crab meat, but this is only a minor complaint for what was a fantastic dish to get stuck into.

Apart from a few of the mains, there weren’t any dishes that you wouldn’t find at your local Chinese. They were more refined here, but not enough so that you will remember it as the best chow mein or ho fun you’ve ever eaten. When you’re paying £60 a head the food should be better, but it didn’t really bother me, as it played second fiddle to the atmosphere and overall feel of the restaurant. It’s not a place to go if you want great Chinese food- Yauatcha next door is far more suited to that. Instead come here in a group with the intention of getting drunk and having a good night, without having to wander down the street for your Chinese feast afterwards, and you’ll leave a happy punter.

7.5/10 (£££)

90 Berwick St, London W1F 0QB

Duck & Rice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Fischer’s

Where The Wolseley and Delaunay (part of the Corbin and King mini-empire) are effortlessly grand and ooze class, this was all a bit Disneyland. It was too shiny, too constructed, as if it had borrowed it’s facade from a plastic surgeon’s table. Harley Steet is only a short walk away, after all. Think Grand Budapest Hotel. The sort of place you find potty old women who look like Joan Rivers (god rest her) feeding their handbagged poodles with strudels from the sterling cutlery. The artwork is like something a rich foreign uncle you never knew you had, leaves you in his will, but you feel too guilty to ditch. The menu is strongly Germanic- Käsespätzle, Esterhazy Schnitten, Passion Fruit Gugelhupf- dishes that will cover anybody sitting around you in phlegm as you try to pronounce. They wouldn’t be out of place coming out of one of Professor Slughorn’s classes. But this being Marleybone, where the majority of the clientele grew up during the war, these dishes are no doubt old world classics, which slip off their tongue and please those fading palettes.

Himmel und Erde (£7.25) is black pudding and apple, a safe combination, but one that is sure to please. It could have done with a kick of spicing, but then that would give too much of a jolt. This is food that plays second fiddle to atmosphere and chat. You come here not to marvel over it, but to have something familiar and comforting. After discreetly getting our iPhones out to Google Käsespätzle (Austrian Mac & Cheese), we ordered it, and with the added bacon (£7.25) it was a wholesome heart clogger. A dish that sticks both fingers up to any diet. It had been given a flash under the grill to crisp the top, and the cheese was gooey and strong. All these trendy diners that serve gloopy crap, should take note.

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Grilled spatchcock chicken (£16.50) was lathered in the herb dressing and far too greasy and the skin wasn’t crisp. Almost like chewing on one of the old biddy’s soon to be lifted jowls. The Wiener Schnitzel (£21.75)- the classic dish across the Corbin & King group- needs the the anchovy, capers and egg to stop it from being in Bernard Matthews land. But will hit the spot every time.

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For dessert, the Apple and Cinnamon strudel (£7.75) had a good flaky pastry and a strong hit of spicing. A sundae with pistachio, hazelnut and almond ice creams with butterscotch sauce is worthy an anaphylaxis fit.

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It was a pleasant enough meal, but far from exciting. A posh Cafe Rogue. But when you are in your fifties and visiting places like La Fromargerie is a real thing, then pleasant is exactly what you’re looking for. Your taste-buds are dead by then, your sight is fading, and all you want is some good crockery and a place to read the paper. Fischer’s couldn’t suit the area more. I would go back, but in forty years time.

6/10 (£££)

50 Marylebone High St, London W1U 5HN

Fischer's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

There’s little else that can be said about Heston Blumenthal, other than he’s the man who in one lifetime has created snail porridge, the hidden orange Waitrose Christmas Pudding, and reconstructed Hansel and Gretel’s sweet house. With this place in food history, he can forgiven for rarely turning up to actually cook in his kitchen and for swanning off to Australia along with his fat duck for the last 6 months. Everyone is familiar with his brand of cooking and with his beaming bald head plastered on an increasing number of goods in our shopping aisles, which is probably why getting a seat in one of his restaurants is like trying to recreate one of his dishes at home. But, now that Dinner has been open for 4 years and there are hotter seats in town, the long waiting lists have eased off and you can get your arse on a seat within a month.

The dining room has views across Hyde Park, but take away the chef’s name above the door and the open window looking onto the rotisserie pineapples, and it is just another 5-star hotel’s dining room, catering for the moneyed elite– undisruptive, firmly masculine and a little bland. What lifts it is the mix of excited tourists, foodies and businessmen all enjoying their food together- snaps for Instagram, nods of appreciation, and million pound handshakes- all under the same roof. This all gives it a far livelier atmosphere than most other high end restaurants. The staff also help, as they made it feel like a special occasion despite it being a lunchtime, and were expertly versed on the dishes– something I can’t imagine is easy given hundreds of years of British cooking history has influenced the food.

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of gasps coming from the neighbouring tables and looking around, whilst still beautiful, there is no real spectacle in the presentation of any of the dishes. There’s no gimmicks here, none of the sparks we’ve seen on his TV show or heard about at The Fat Duck. Instead, the menu came across as surprisingly simple. No long list of ingredients or techniques, no words you have to google the pronunciation of before ordering . Instead it was classic British ingredients cooked to the highest standard.

The Meat Fruit is the billboard dish here and is worthy of the hype. It quite simply is a perfect, smooth and rich chicken liver parfait, lifted by the fresh hit from the mandarin jelly that it has been dipped in to give it the look. Roast Marrowbone was another stunning dish with a deep earthy flavour from the snails and a creamy richness from the marrow, which is cut through by pickled vegetables. Not the easiest dish to eat, but a bloody tasty one. Savoury Porridge with crispy frogs legs had a vibrant green colour and an incredible fresh herby flavour.  IMG_9362

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For mains the a Spiced Pigeon was beautifully pink and had a great flavour coming through from the blend of ale and spices. Hereford Ribeye was again perfectly cooked and had the original mushroom ketchup, something every young chef on Great British Menu seems eager to try their hand at these days. Unable to resist the urge, we shared Tipsy Cake which is an absolute must have. The pineapples which have been slowly caramelising on the incredibly elaborate spit roast are added to a warm buttery brioche that has been soaked in brandy- it is the most indulgent dessert I have ever tasted.

The meal was without the theatre I had expected, but the thought that has gone into these dishes, and the skill in their execution, makes up for the lack of drama. I almost feel it is a better dinner if you take the thought of Heston out of it. Go there expecting magic and you’ll be disappointed, go expecting the best British cooking in the world, and you’ll leave delighted.

9.5/10 (££££)

Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA

Dinner By Heston Blumenthal - Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Palomar

Rupert Street- it’s not really Chinatown, not really Soho, not quite Piccadilly. Explaining where Palomar is, is a bit like trying to explain the menu. It’s modern Jerusalem food, which has a bit of Spanish, African, and Middle Eastern influences. There’s raw dishes, there’s comforting hearty dishes and there’s dishes with ingredients you’d never think of putting together- think beef with a blubbery madeira cake. Palomar manages to be entirely familiar and unexpected at the same time. And always brilliant.

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The restaurant opened last year and has been packed ever since. There’s a small number of reservations in the back dining room (good luck getting one of them- you’ve got more chance at Dorsia). The best thing is to wait for a seat up at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. Unlike the calm order of Bocca Di Lupo or Barrafina, which share a similar design, Palomar has an infectious buzz. This is helped by the excellent staff, who will sing along to the Bee Gees and have a shot with you, and also by the simple and brilliant cocktail list that is far too easy to work your way through. There’s a real authentic passion here which shines in the cooking and service. It feels like the chefs or owners have grown up eating these dishes, and have just refined them a little. The menu is always fresh and exciting, but also feels so homely. You really can’t have a bad meal here.

To start things off some kubaneh (luckily the dishes come with descriptions)- a duvet of warm brioche-like bread served in its baking pot with tahini and a tomato dip to mop up. Then from the raw dishes the beetroot carpaccio had a clean fresh taste, and the beef tartare is the best I’ve had. There was a real zing to the flavour, and an added crunch from crispy Jerusalem artichokes.

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What followed was a string of dishes that you wish weren’t designed to be shared. Butternut squash risotto was rich and creamy, with crispy sage leaves and crushed pistachios giving an added texture. Jerusalem Polenta was an indulgent blend of asparagus and parmesan with a hint of truffle oil. A pork belly tajine with apricots and ras el hanout was another comforting winner. Best of all was the Shakshukit- a deconstructed kebab- it was a sloppy delight- mopped clean with the pita. A Jerusalem Mess made up of lemon cream, almond crumble, strawberries, apple jelly and sorrel, is one of the most refreshing desserts I’ve ever eaten. A perfect end to the best meal this year.

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There are plenty of great small-plate restaurants in London, especially in Soho. Barrafina, Polpo and Bocca Di Lupo are the longstanding kings, but Palomar may well have taken their top spot. It is the most exciting food I can remember having in London. The staff are so good that every owner should take his waiters here so that they can see how it is done. A faultless meal, even if I have no idea how to describe what or where it was.

10/10 (£££)

34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN

The Palomar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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The Quality Chop House

When you’re packed on a rush hour London tube, your nose guzzled into a armpit, how often is it the armpit of a Londoner? Or even a Brit? It’s the same when you’re walking down any London high-street- you pass Mexican, Spanish, Afghan restaurants and even cross-bred mongrels like Korean-Mexican and Brazilian sushi. But if it’s just some classic British scran you’re after, you’ll struggle to find anywhere other than your local dingy boozer with it’s beige pie and chips and beige sausage and mash. True British classics. The same old flavourless crap that tastes just as dull in any pub in any part of the country. That’s unless you go to one of those artisan gastro-bollocks pubs. But don’t get me started on them.

British food just isn’t very exciting, and so it has been pushed to the margins of our tastes. Not often do we fancy going out for some meat, stodge and veg. Even at it’s most adventurous, British food isn’t hip anymore. The nose-to-tail eating of St. John has been replicated everywhere. All restaurants use the previously unfashionable cheaper cuts, and the innards of animals. Even Tesco has started using horsemeat. So we venture to other corners of the globe to excite our palettes. And then we inevitably adopt these dishes as our own- give them the good old Tikka Masala or Lemon Chicken treatment and extract any colour or excitment from them, so that the once lively Thai green curry is transformed into a tepid pot of beige British piss on every pub menu in the country.

In all of this we have forgotten just how good British food can be. Forgotten that we have some of the best beef and lamb in the world. And with ingredients this good, you don’t need some Escoffier-versed French tosser to knock up some good grub. You just need a chef who understands and respects the ingredients. Heat, season and serve. Little else is needed. This is where The Quality Chop House comes into the equation (perhaps doing its chefs a slight injustice there).

Around the corner from the foodie-haven of Exmouth Market, The Quality Chop House is a warm little dining room inside a listed building from 1869. All very impressive, but it’s the food we really care about. We chose the set menu (great value at £44 for 5 courses)- which thankfully lists ingredients rather than any pointless techniques. First up was a selection of nice, but slightly needless ‘finger food’ nibbles- sweetcorn lathered in marmite butter, goat’s curd with tomato on toast, truffled potato croquette with aioli, and a bite of salmon mousse wrapped in cucumber- which all seemed a bit foreign on the menu and didn’t really represent the style of the cooking to come.

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Things quickly got into more familiar ground- the daily catch was a white fish served with peas and a thin slither of lardo melted on top- simple and perfect. As was the the partridge served with celeriac and Tropea onion- the only thing to let it down was the cold plate and long wait for the dish.

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Hereford beef for main came as both a Denver cut and as brisket with a rich gravy sauce sitting on top of creamy polenta. I’d have eaten a cauldron full of this stuff. The Barnsley chop was perfectly cooked and didn’t much else to make it a great dish. A side of confit potatoes would make it into my last supper, and broccoli with flaked almonds was a needed crunch. To finish things off a light olive oil and pistachio cake with lemon curd and meringue was tangy and refreshing- I’d have wolfed a Sticky Toffee or a crumble, but after a meaty meal, it was probably what my waistline needed.

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It was hard to fault the meal. It made me remember just how good British food can be, and done well, just how much better it can be than most other cuisines. It’s a shame that there aren’t more restaurants like this, because although we might say we can cook this type of food at home, we never do. We’ll never go out and source the good ingredients, or get the quality meat from our butchers. We just Click & Deliver on Tesco and get some steroid fed rubber chicken that dissolves in the pan. Go here and you might get some faith back in British cooking and ingredients. I certainly did. It was one of the most fulfilling dinners I’ve had this year. It delivered on everything I expected, and with a menu that changes daily, it won’t be long before I’m back.

9/10  (£££)

88-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
The Quality Chop House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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