EATING OUT / In a working class of its own: The Quality Chop House

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The Independent Culture
94 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3EA. Tel: 071-837 5093.

Open every day except Saturday lunch. Lunch and dinner average pounds 15 to pounds 20 per head.

Only cash and cheques; no credit cards accepted

THE QUALITY Chop House on Farringdon Road has been an eating hole of one sort or another for more than a hundred years, which is nice. But it has been under the present management for only the last four, during which time it has acquired a surprisingly good reputation. At the top of its menu, and inscribed on the window, are the words 'Progressive working class caterer', inherited from the days when the QCH was a genuine caff, serving huge portions of excellent porridge, kippers, bacon and bubble.

It seems crass to me, keeping those words. Irritating. The effect on me of those four words - combined with the restaurant's generally fanciful menu and the dreary nature of its clientele - was not positive. In fact it was violently, some might say hysterically, negative. I hated it because it embodied everything that is revolting about my own, or very nearly my own, constipated, narcissistic, hypocritical, cowardly and over-educated social world. It is an emblem for bourgeois joylessness. So. Some violent passages follow.

The Quality Chop House looks like an old-fashioned pub. Guests sit along wooden benches and share tables with strangers, all of which is unaffected and pleasant enough. But the QCH serves escargots. And asparagus. And foreign words I've never heard of. And it doesn't even serve cottage pie. What you find on the menu is middle-classified, low cholesterolised, Frenchified, fancified, buffalo mozzarellafied poor people's food made clean enough for the guilt-ridden. So the restaurant begins life with this incredibly irritating premise (about being progressively working class) and then - even then - it doesn't have the nerve to see it through.

The waiters were pleasant. The waiters were efficient and friendly and relaxed . . . but I never saw such a sickly bunch as the people who chose to eat in there that night. They may have been academics, though I couldn't place them with too much conviction at all. Without exception they looked pasty and unattractive, as if they dared not enjoy their lives. God, they looked earnest. There was a pallid, decadent misery about the clientele which put me and my friend right off our food. And we were starving when we arrived.

As a first course I ordered Parma ham (very finely cut) with cold potatoes and melted raclette cheese. To be honest, it was delicious. pounds 6.50 and very good. But gloriously working class? My friend went further downmarket and ordered half-a-dozen snails for pounds 5. The garlic butter was bland and too oily. The snails were slightly tough. They were edible, but they weren't great.

I followed with bangers and mash, ha ha. Except the bangers were imported, or not, from Toulouse. They were delicious, though not quite as good as the other Toulouse sausages that, being a spoilt girl, I spent most of my school summer holidays stuffing into my fat face. My parents were so progressively working class that they had a cottage a few miles from Toulouse where they took us for six weeks every year. So the Toulouse sausage I was familiar with was not like the ones they gave me on the Farringdon Road, which didn't have enough pepper in them.

Which doesn't matter. I'm just showing off. But I do wonder why, when the place is proclaiming itself as working class and when British people can traditionally make exquisite sausages all of their own, the restaurant had to bottle out and go French. Why? It's so predictable. I know it doesn't matter, but it's irritating. However. The sausages, the creamy mashed potato and the onion gravy were a delight. (Or they would have been, if only I could have felt hungry. I suppose the restaurant can't turn people away because of their lifeless faces. That would be unforgivable.) So the pounds 7.50 bangers and mash were great.

My friend ordered salmon fishcake with sorrel sauce. It was good. I mean it was very good. She was given one, the size of a crystal ball, which balanced on a bed of spinach. So presentation marks in that instance - not high. It looked silly, the fishcake, in the middle of her plate. We both giggled.

By this stage in the game we were both feeling a little sick. We'd eaten too much bread as we waited for our first course (though the service is perfectly speedy) and we'd both had a thing or two to drink. But we pressed on.

We shared a pounds 3.75 caramel cheesecake. The caramel sauce was thick and delicious, but the cheesecake itself tasted like the ready- mix cheesecakes I used to make in a hurry without reading the instructions when I was a child. Too sweet, not stodgy enough. Not up to scratch.

It was at this sad point in the proceedings - as we were longing for the friendly waiters to take everything away - that the third member of our party chose to turn up. And so off we went again. The place was still crowded, though it was 11 o'clock. Our waiter grinned at the late arrival - which is quite something because he must have been longing to go home - and talked him through the menu. The Quality Chop House cod and chips are thought by some to be among the best in the world. So that's what customer number three ordered. Presentation marks were high on this one and the chips were good. I don't know if there's anything you can do to liven up a battered cod. I think probably not. Anyway they didn't do it. Which was fine by me.

I ordered a particular herbal tea that the waitress had only referred to by its brand name. She didn't know what it was called so she gave me a fresh tea bag to take away. She thought it might help me to track down similar ones elsewhere. Which was above averagely friendly. I lost the tea bag within minutes of her handing it over, but that was inevitable and certainly not her fault. The bill, with herbal teas and service included, came to pounds 62.

The Quality Chop House is ideal for urban frumps with clean hands. I never want to go there again.-

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