For Romantic Dining, Try a Restaurant With Beds
By Richard Vines
Bloomberg — There's a line on the bottom of the menu at Dean Street Townhouse saying bedrooms go for as little as 95 pounds ($151). Comfort eating is reclining to a new level.
You don't have to get horizontal to enjoy Townhouse, where there are chairs to sink into and cozy corners to colonize. The look is very much that of a private club, which is predictable because this is the new London venture of Soho House Group.
The menu is refreshingly unchallenging if you are familiar with British food, and the prices are as friendly as most of the staff. The service is oddly uneven, but first let's talk about the food. There are luxury delicacies such as oysters and Dover sole, yet most of the dishes are as comforting as a warm bed.
Roast pumpkin soup with walnut relish (5.75 pounds) is just right for a cold day. Twice-baked smoked haddock souffle is light as fresh snow. Fish soup is dark and deep. The pan- fried duck egg with wild mushrooms is a posh all-day breakfast dish.
The bread is baked on the premises. Don't be fooled elsewhere when the bought-in rolls reach your table still warm from the oven where they have been lovingly reheated.
The signature main of a bowl of mince with a side of boiled potatoes (10.50 pounds) is a million miles (or 1.6 million kilometers, if you prefer) from school dinners, the sauce rich with a peppery back note, the potatoes al dente with a dusting of parsley. (When I was aged about seven, I was kept back in the dining room while other children played outside and a teacher tried to force me to eat mince. I'll never forget that unhappiness and I do not recommend the dish lightly.)
Fish & chips with marrow fat peas is 13.75 pounds—it's 17.50 pounds at the Ivy—and the batter is light and crisp.
If anything, the desserts are even better value than the mains, particularly the sherry trifle to share, which arrives in a big bowl and costs just 10 pounds. Sharing a treacle sponge and custard will set you back 8.75 pounds. Apple pie is a fiver.
The only dish I didn't enjoy over four visits was the most expensive starter, Dorset crab mayonnaise, which was dry. My favorites were from the High Tea menu, which is available at lunchtime. Order a selection such as chicken livers on toast; Scotch egg with caper mayonnaise; macaroni and cheese; and fish sticks and fries and you can happily fill up for about 25 pounds. The liver was a large serving; the Scotch egg was soft, with a beautifully runny yolk; macaroni and cheese was bland.
The menu is credited to head chef Stephen Tonkin, an alumnus of the Ivy, a Caprice Holdings restaurant that is allied with Soho House because both are owned by Richard Caring. Yet you don't have to look hard to spot the influence of Mark Hix, the former chef-director of Caprice.
The service can be excellent: friendly and solicitous. One receptionist even gave me a private booking line after I'd shown up three times in about a week. But a request five days in advance for a particular table—when I was lunching with the chef Pierre Koffmann—wasn't honored. There is a lurking too-cool-for-school element that, for example, leaves glasses unfilled and wine bottles out of reach. There's a similar dichotomy at Scott's—the restaurant that put the spit into hospitality—and at J. Sheekey.
The drinks list includes about 20 options by the half- liter carafe. The cheapest white (Airen 2008 Tierra de Castilla, La Mancha) is very drinkable and costs only 12 pounds for a carafe. The 2007 Petit Chablis (34.25 pounds a bottle) is fresh and crisp, with some length. For Bloody Mary fans, there's freshly grated horseradish on top.
Most of the seating is in rows, but there's a lounge at the back if you'd like somewhere a little less communal, and my own favorite place is right there at the bar, where you can watch everyone else and the drinks are where you can reach them.
That's it. I'm going for a lie down.
Dean Street Townhouse, 69-71 Dean Street, London, W1D 4QJ. Information: +44-20-7434-1775 or http://www.deanstreettownhouse.com.
Cost? About 20 pounds a head plus wine.
Sound level? Can get a tad noisy when busy, 75-80 decibels.
Inside tip? The best table is the corner one on the right beyond the reception desk, if you're important enough.
Special feature? Beds.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Are you kidding? There are beds.
What the Stars Mean
**** Incomparable food, service, ambience.
*** First-class of its kind.
** Good, reliable.
0 (no stars) Poor.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Richard Vines in London at firstname.lastname@example.org
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