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.
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.
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.
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.