Restaurants are a lagging economic indicator. Fancy venues rolled off the production line months after the U.K. entered recession. Now comes the focus on value.
28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen, which opened this month a short stroll from the City, is the brainchild of the team behind Texture, the Michelin-starred establishment in London’s West End that combines a Champagne bar with fine dining.
The name refers to the latitudes between which most wine is grown and points to the passion of the French-born co-owner Xavier Rousset, a former U.K. sommelier of the year. (While “28-50” sounds more like a holiday company for middle-aged swingers, let’s set that thought to one side.)
The menu has been devised by Icelandic chef Aggi Sverrisson and the kitchen is headed by Paul Walsh, formerly of the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Rousset and Sverrisson are veterans of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.
Most starters are less than 7 pounds ($10.40) and mains below 15 pounds. With wine starting at 17.50 pounds a bottle, and the entire list available by the glass and carafe, 28-50 is inexpensive for London.
The French-influenced dishes are accomplished at this low- key eatery, in a basement off Fleet Street. Eating underground isn’t on most people’s wish list and the space works best at night, when candles illuminate the bare-brick walls.
It’s no great surprise that lunch offers the best value, at 15.50 pounds for two courses. The current choices include a rich starter of duck rillettes with toast.
The mains are onglet (hanger steak) and chips, with enough flavor for any steak lover, or salmon with tomato vinaigrette. If you think of salmon as dull, this slightly sweet dish might help change your mind.
Going a la carte, the pan-fried ballotine of ham hock and black pudding, with potato salad and horseradish isn’t timid. Neither is the main of pan-fried red mullet, bouillabaisse. Or how about lamb shoulder, potato puree and new-season garlic?
Among the desserts, my favorite is the rhum baba with Chantilly cream and strawberries, possibly because you get a small jug of rum on the side. Otherwise it would be the coconut parfait with coconut sorbet and chocolate sauce. That’s fine for a summer’s day and avoids the pitfall of excessive sweetness.
The menu is short -- six starters and six mains -- and entirely suitable for the small kitchen. The cooking is accurate and the flavor combinations are sure-footed enough not to be boring. The only letdown for me was the sharing plate of charcuterie. I’ve tried it twice and its pleasures pass me by.
My other hesitation is over the wine list. It’s well-chosen and reasonably priced but short on adventure and excitement for somewhere that calls itself a wine workshop. However, there is a winemaker of the month section (currently Domaine Trimbach) and there’s a separate reserve list if you are feeling flush, so it’s not bad. I’d like a wider choice and more exotic options.
Having said that, there are plenty of good wines on there and the 2004 Pinot Noir, Ferrous, Kooyong, Mornington Peninsula is a revelation. I normally avoid Australian pinots with the kind of swerve I otherwise reserve for “Big Issue” sellers and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. All I can say is, G’day Australia.
All is OK at the moment because Rousset is there to look after you, but I wouldn’t necessarily feel confident in flagging down a passing waiter for a detailed discussion of the wines. Vinoteca is nearby, so the bar is set very high indeed.
28-50 is a work in progress. I’d challenge anyone to fail to be impressed by the passion and talent of Sverrisson and Rousset. Texture is one of my favorite London restaurants.
If the food business is now celebrating a new era of austerity, make mine a set lunch and a glass of pinot at 28-50.
28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen, 140 Fetter Lane, EC4A 1BT. Information: +44-20-7242-8877 or http://www.2850.co.uk/.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Mains range from 12.50 pounds to 18 pounds.
Sound level? Not noisy, 70-80 decibels.
Inside tip? The set lunch is a bargain.
Special feature? The mezzanine private table looks good.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Not bad.
What the Stars Mean **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. 0 (no stars) Poor.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)