10 Greek Street, London W1
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 10 March 2012
Ah Soho, such a shifting mixum-gatherum of grace and grot, such a protean hybrid of shabby and genteel. RL Stevenson in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (published in 1886) described a Soho street which contained "...a gin palace, a low French eating house, a shop for the retail of penny numbers and two penny salads, many ragged children huddled in the doorways, and women of many different nationalities passing out, key in hand" – and little has changed.
The north end of Greek Street is drenched in history, what with the Gay Hussar, opened by the Hungarian impresario Victor Sassie in 1953 and a favourite haunt of left-wing politicians ever since, at No 2, and The Pillars of Hercules pub, name-checked in A Tale of Two Cities and the place where Ian Hamilton, editor of The New Review, regularly regaled his literary cronies Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Clive James, at No 7.
The new joint at No 10 is so unprepossessing, you could pass by without noticing it. It's so plain as to suggest the proprietor must be Amish, or Shaker. The walls are cream-neutral and bare of decoration, unless you count a mirror. The menu is chalked on two blackboards. Tables are metallic and bare of napery. The chairs are plain wood, and wouldn't look out of place at a Quaker meeting. Water is served in milk bottles. This place takes minimalism and non-luxury to new heights, beaten only by Meat Liquor in Welbeck Street, where you're given jam jars to drink wine from.
Like the Liquor, 10 Greek Street operates a no-bookings policy, but you don't have to queue round the block. Here, if they're full, they'll take your name, send you off to the Pillars next door, and tell you when your table's ready.
Luckily, when we arrived there was a table free, but seated at either end of a rectangle, with a buzz of chat reverberating across the bare room, it was hard to communicate. I looked round in desperation – and saw people eating in the kitchen. Two minutes later, we were sitting on little stools, cramped a little too closely against a trio of genial Dutchmen employed by a Japanese IT company nearby, and gazing at the chef's theatre before us.
It was lovely. The kitchen, white-tiled like a municipal bath, is in a circular room surmounted by a fancy skylight, or pergola. A heftily-bearded young chap presided over the Pass, dished out bottles to the waiters and kept up a stream of friendly chat. Three chefs did all the prepping, cooking and dishing up without fuss, or apparent effort. It was like eating in your own kitchen, except the food was magnificent.
We started with bar snacks of padron peppers and razor clams, and very yummy they were. Octopus carpaccio with caperberries looked beautiful, a delicate mosaic of pinks and creams, and tasted fine, given a double kick of chilli and lemon. Angie's cauliflower soup was enlivened by a bite of gorgonzola, the two flavours locked in a pungent embrace. Lamb sweetbreads with lentils and romanesco sauce (red peppers, almonds, garlic and tomatoes) looked lovely but was ruined by the addition of marsala. (Sweet wine with lamb and lentils? I don't think so.)
If the first courses tended to the fishy (trout, sardines, octopus), the mains were big on game and gutsy flavours. House speciality is a sensational rack of Brecon lamb with parsnips and broccoli (£40 for two) served as a mountain of coral-pink cutlets. Angie's sea bream was a tad underdone – when did we all agree that it's OK for fish to be pink at the bone? – but she loved the accompanying mix of cooked (artichokes) and salad (fennel and olive) vegetables.
My haunch of venison was a thing of beauty, four hefty tranches of deer perfectly cooked, lividly purple in the middle. Truffle mash was pureed to silkenness – and a lump of cooked quince (uh-oh) was sensibly confined to the side of the dish.
Puddings were admirable: chocolate pot with cardamom made a sophisticated (if slightly pointless) couple, energised by vanilla cream and blood orange, while an 'Espresso brûlée' – light coffee on top, darker coffee below – worked a treat. Watching the sous-chef torching the caramel, while we chatted with the (mostly New Zealand) staff and the dreamboat waitress Matilda, I thought what an unusual treat it had been to eat in the kitchen at No 10 – so warm and homely, so charming and friendly, the food so serenely, unflappingly, cooked, plated and served up.
I doubt if the inhabitants of the other, more famous Number 10 have eaten better dinners than ours in ages, and I urge them (and you) to try it as soon as possible.
10 Greek Street, 10 Greek Street, London W1 (020-7734 4677)
About £85 for two, with wine
Tipping policy: "No service charge. All tips go to the staff"
Side orders: No reservations
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