Food & Drink: Chop off the old block: Sir Terence Conran's new restaurant boasts good food but high prices, says Emily Green

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The blasts near Tower Bridge were loud enough to have dogs quavering in Hackney on 4 October. It was not a prelude to Guy Fawkes night, nor a misguided stab at Hallowe'en. It was Sir Terence Conran celebrating his 62nd birthday at his 'gastrodrome' on the river Thames. To mark the occasion, he employed fireworks and, for good measure, his partners opened his newest restaurant, the Butlers Wharf Chop House.

It is fitting that Conran should celebrate with a new restaurant, because it is the restaurant world that has given him the warmest stream of success: to match every glory in his various careers as designer, property speculator and high-street mogul, he has also suffered heartbreaking boardroom defeats, even receivership.

He, in turn, has given London a substantial string of restaurants. Since 1954, he has opened the Soup Kitchens, the Orrery, the Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, the restaurant at Heal's in Tottenham Court Road, Bibendum in South Kensington, the Blue Print Cafe, Pont de la Tour and Cantina del Ponte all in Butlers Wharf, and Quaglino's in St James's.

The restaurants appear to have transformed him. What happened to the feverish ambassador of Modernism who brought to dowdy British high streets affordable director's chairs, elegant European glassware, fabrics and simple white plates? He evolved into the emblem of stylish corpulence, a that-will-do-nicely, Sir Terence.

Knightly confidence is useful when dealing with detractors and, unsurprisingly for a successful man, Conran has accumulated a few. His critics in the restaurant world are fond of asking, for example, whether it was mere coincidence that he opened the Cantina on the Thames last year within weeks of Marco Pierre White opening the Canteen up-river? Given that both restaurants suffered from the confusion, it seems more of a coincidence than a case of cut-throat opportunism.

Yet the naming of the Butlers Wharf Chop House is more fraught. Would Conran have considered opening a chop house had Charles Fontaine not made such a success of the Quality Chop House north of the river in Clerkenwell? Would the Rolling Stones have happened without Muddy Waters?

Conran takes inspiration where he finds it. Mr Fontaine's restaurant is no less a wonderful place for having been mimicked, and Conran mimics masterfully, with real love for the subject.

Confusion should be short-lived between the two chop houses for the bald reason that, apart from the names and their wooden settles, they are very different. The Farringdon one is tiny, the Butlers Wharf newcomer large. While the Farringdon original serves excellent franglais food for low-ish prices, Conran's serves excellent British food that is unapologetically expensive. Last Monday a three- course lunch, Campari, two glasses of wine and double espresso at Conran's cost almost pounds 40.

While the prices have the ring of the Eighties boom, the writing of the menu is self-consciously historical, listing dishes such as 'bloater paste with green tomato chutney', 'chicken, cabbage and pearl barley soup' and 'beef and pigeon stew'. All it lacks for authenticity is stale bread, gruel, rancid game and small beer.

Fortunately, the Butlers Wharf Chop House takes historical authenticity only so far. The chef, Rod Eggleston, and the manager, Alex Stewart, seem to understand that customers will want to eat rather than study food. Each has trained in Conran restaurants, Mr Eggleston in Bibendum, then the Blue Print Cafe, Mr Stewart at Pont de la Tour. They are drilled in the house style, dedicated to fleet professionalism and high luxury.

So the napkins are starchy linen, which suits the style of food. Rare roast beef came with good jus, perfect Yorkshire pudding and horseradish cream; roast pigeon with a nutmeggy bread sauce and lightly cooked savoy cabbage. An 18th-century gent might have expected his pigeon so gamey that it stank, and cooked to sawdust. Mine tasted lightly hung and was cooked medium rare, its skin salty, crisp and fragrant with thyme.

Not much extra-virgin olive oil was going into wild lettuce and cold rabbit salads in England when 'chop house' entered the vernacular in the late 17th century. Three centuries later, it does at the Chop House - and for them that wants, the oil is sold round the corner in a new Conran spice and oil shop.

A Norfolk Egg was explained as 'the same thing as a Scotch Egg, except made with quail's eggs'. This was very good, the sausagemeat delicious in the Scotch (or Norfolk), the frying deft. Accompanying it was a pleasingly light chilli jelly and a handful of cooling salad leaves.

Puddings would probably pass muster in a BBC costume drama, and are fine for all that. A Bakewell tart and nut-studded apple, pear and ginger crumble were good, if a touch dry.

The wine list offers rich pickings for those who can stand its prices. There are precious few fanciable wines under pounds 20 a bottle, so we sampled the two house reds by the glass: a respectable claret and a rather hard burgundy. Dessert wines include a deliciously floral Recioto di Soave, a 1990 from I Capitelli. There is a choice of thicker, richer sauternes and a barsac, but the sweet soaves can be exceedingly elegant and fully deserve to be sold alongside French classics.

A 15 per cent service charge is built into the bill, nothing optional about it. It is well earned. The waiters are immaculate, speedy and charming. As for the room itself, fine craftsmanship behind the fittings is impressive. The result is a triumphant cross between a Conran kitchen shop and the green benches of Parliament.

Butlers Wharf Chop House, 36e Shad Thames, London SE1 (071- 403 3403). Vegetarian meals, best by request. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat, lunch Sun. Bar lunches on Saturday. Children welcome; special portions. Major credit cards.

(Photograph omitted)

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