Can the stylish Dean Street Townhouse measure up to every A-lister's favourite, The Ivy?
Sunday 20 December 2009
Talk about the right DNA. The Dean Street Townhouse is the brainchild of Nick Jones, the entrepreneur who founded the Soho House Group, and Richard Caring, the owner of Le Caprice, the Ivy, J Sheekey, Scott's, Annabel's, Mark's Club, Harry's Bar and dozens of other top-flight restaurants and clubs. Caring became the majority shareholder in the Soho House Group in 2008 and this is their first big joint venture in London.
Finding your way to the restaurant is harder than it looks. It's supposed to be located at 69-71 Dean Street, but the first doorway I went through turned out to be the entrance to the 39-bedroom hotel. In order to get to the restaurant, I had to leave the hotel, go back out on to the street, walk next door, and then re-enter. Slightly odd arrangement, particularly for those hotel guests hoping to eat breakfast in their dressing-gowns. Why no corridor linking the two? The explanation is that the two properties housing the hotel and restaurant are grade II-listed buildings and English Heritage wouldn't let Jones and Caring knock them through. There is a corridor, but it's on the first floor.
69 Dean Street, where the restaurant is located, has a colourful past. Built 1732-1735, it was bought by Vincent Novello in 1834 and, for a time, became the centre of the Novello family's music publishing business. The top two floors were later home to the Gargoyle Club, David Tennant's speakeasy that opened in 1928. Its last occupant was a Pitcher and Piano.
As soon as you enter, there is no doubt about its parentage. Like the Ivy, Scott's and J Sheekey, it has the appearance of a luxurious gentlemen's club, with lots of dark wood and brass rails. I would say it reminded me of the state room of the Titanic if that wasn't such a loaded comparison. It's unmistakably classical, a restaurant that wants you to think it's been around for at least 100 years.
The service is crisp and efficient, staff dashing about as discreetly as they can in a restaurant that's only been open a week. By the time I arrive at 8.15pm on a Wednesday, the place is buzzing and my companion, whom I was expecting to find at the bar, has been seated at a table to the right of the door. He is one glass into a bottle of 2008 Argentinian Malbec which, at £23.75, he pronounces "good value".
The menu is like a stripped-down version of the Ivy's, with plenty of modern British staples such as watercress soup, Scotch egg, Dover sole, and fish and chips. I start with smoked haddock soufflé followed by mince and boiled potatoes, while my companion has the seafood cocktail and the mixed grill.
My first course is excellent – a firm, rich soufflé with lots of deep, fishy flavour – but the mince is a little on the utilitarian side. This is supposed to be the Townhouse's signature dish – its version of the Ivy's cottage pie – but because it consists of just mince with a couple of boiled potatoes on top it looks as if something's missing. The flavour is good, particularly if you're a fan of Worcester Sauce, but it would work better as a pie. It's not a dish so much as a couple of ingredients in search of a home.
My friend enjoys his seafood cocktail and has no complaints about the mixed grill. It comprises steak, lamb chop, sausage and liver, all portions quite generous. However, he is a bit disappointed to discover that any vegetables must be ordered separately.
Judging from the pricing – the mince is £10.50 – the Dean Street Townhouse is aimed at a slightly more cost-conscious demographic than the Ivy or J Sheekey. It's Caprice Holdings' diffusion line, if you like. This is also reflected in the layout of the restaurant, with a large, old-fashioned bar along one side of the main dining-room and the tables arranged in a long line, almost like the dining car of a railway train. This means it's impossible to get a good view of who else is in the restaurant, no matter how much rubber-necking you do. Not a see-and-be-seen place, then.
A mid-range hotel restaurant is new territory for Jones and Caring, but the fact that the Townhouse has proved such an instant hit suggests they've got it right. I returned on a Monday evening a week later and the dining-room was just as crowded. If the Ivy is Caprice's Concorde, this is a Virgin Atlantic 747. It may not attract as many A-listers, but I suspect it will be no less popular for that.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
Dean Street Townhouse 69-71 Dean Street, London W1, tel: 020 7434 1775 Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Dinner: £106 for two, including wine and service
Second helpings: Boutique eat-and-sleeps
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