Sea bass with beetrootMore pictures
In going to Quo Vadis I broke one of my personal restaurant rules by going to a restaurant while it was still newly opened. Getting a table was a struggle (so we ended up eating at the bar), we had to deal with ‘celebrity’ arrivals (Suggs and that tall headmaster from The Inbetweeners) and front of house were rushed off their feet. The story of Quo Vadis intrigued me though so I allowed myself a bit of rule breaking when thinking of a place to go for an impromptu Soho dinner.
The story behind the newly reopened restaurant reads like an epic story of the London food scene. Open as a restaurant since 1926 a chef (Jeremy Lee) leaves a place that he made a London eating institution (16 years at the Blueprint Cafe) and moves from working for one family of restauranteurs (Conran) to another (the Harts). With all that in mind there was not much surprise that this was such a hot ticket and in the days prior the established food publications were lavishing it with praise. The daily changing menu is laid out on an A3 sized piece of paper and broken into a number of boxed sections such as light bites (bar snacks), the daily pie, the grill and oysters – it encourages over-eating as you read the starters, pick one then feel like you’re missing out on something else so (if you’re greedy like I am) order something extra.
For me that additional course was the smoked eel sandwich, two thick slices of eel mixed in with a horseradish sauce more on the creamy side than sinus clearing and served with a delicious pickled red onion. I’m always a lover of sandwiches and this one was spot on – the oily eel was complimented by horseradish and the sourness added by the pickled onion cut through both and made me yearn for the next bite. Our other light bite of baked salsify and parmesan was a perfect finger food and I’m always happy to see the sweet tasting root veg on menus. Unfortunately it was impossible to not notice that the ends of both spears were burnt to buggery, and while at £3.50 it’s a well priced dish getting just two spears seemed a little meager.
The meal of two courses continued onto the starters. I forgot to picture them but an ice filled plate was delivered at the table with 6 juicy oysters and the standard sides. I’m not a big oyster fan but Ella said they were good and tasty, like a mouthful of the sea (honestly I can’t imagine why anyone would think that’s a good taste). My pork terrine had a rustic, coarse texture with some good chunks of sweet pork fat mixed in with the meat and the cornichons added the required saltiness. Not too sure about the presentation though. When I order a terrine I don’t expect pretty pictures but the tiny splat of English mustard looked more like an after thought, or something that you could imagine being wiped off and reserved. There was also plenty of plate left empty which again gave a slight feeling of meagreness; this could have been fixed easily but placing the two slices of sourdough toast on the same plate as a terrine rather than on a separate one.
Mains courses also split opinions – the sea bass was cooked perfectly with a crisp skin coating a moist firm flesh. The topping of natural earthy sweet tasting beetroot added a good depth of flavour to the clean tasting fish though it was a little surprising that it was cold. I had the pie of the day and was very happy to see pie given a starring place on the menu but the result wasn’t great. The gravy was rich and there was a good amount of meat, and indeed recognisable meat but this was unfortunately accompanied but recognisable bones discovered during my first mouthful meaning that each following one had to be interrupted by a close inspection of each pie laden fork.
Thankfully there were no such problems with the puddings – a nice boozy chocolate St Emilion and a sorbet’ed version of the days cocktail of campari, pomegranate and orange both delivering as expected. Though we did have to wait a little while as our waiter mis-heard our order of sorbet as shortbread.
I would describe my Quo Vadis experience as hectic. The atmosphere was buzzing, the service rather frantic and sitting in the bar we were able to see the Harts and, on occasion, chef Jeremy come rushing out to meet guests that I can imagine were old time frequenters of the restaurant, possibly club members or possibly ‘celebrities’ I didn’t know. When a front of house is hectic I always imagine the kitchen to be even more so. While it’s always a bit annoying when your meal contains a few obvious errors I can almost forgive them as they must have been under some pressure; which is exactly the reason I’ve avoided newly opened popular restaurants in the past giving them a month or so to get settled. The daily changing menu means that I’ll be interested enough to go back in the future, if not just for a pint and a eel sandwich at the bar.Tweet