Lost in Soho: Quo Vadis

If ever a restaurant embodied the Zeitgeist of the Nineties (and isn't Zeitgeist the Ninetiest of words?) it was Quo Vadis. How deliciously ironic that an old Soho haunt, once the home of Karl Marx, should be taken over by the PR maestro and corporate flack Matthew Freud. And what larks when Freud and his partners, the artist Damien Hirst and Marco Pierre White, eventually had a spectacular falling-out, leaving White sulking in sole charge with only his self-painted Hirst knock-offs for company. Truly, each generation gets the bohemians and boulevardiers it deserves.

Like many a Soho old-timer, Quo Vadis, est. 1926, proved to be surprisingly resilient through all this, slipping quietly back into obscurity via a subsequent change of ownership. Then, earlier this year, the boards went up, signalling the start of a new chapter. The new owners, two bright young restaurateurs called Sam and Eddie Hart, are as different from the last mob as it's possible to imagine; career caterers (albeit of a rather elevated stripe: they grew up in the country house hotel Hambleton Hall), they have already launched two successful restaurants, Fino and Barrafina.

The fact that these are modern tapas restaurants, while Quo Vadis was to be relaunched as a contemporary take on a hotel grill room, might have set alarm bells ringing, had the Harts not generally been so well respected. Personally, I've always felt that they're very good at food, but that their restaurants lack, well, heart. So I was curious to see how they'd go about creating the more comfortable, cosseting atmosphere required for an elegant three-course meal, rather than a staccato flurry of tapas dishes.

The answer is, not very well. Quo Vadis gets many things right, including, crucially, the food. But a restaurant like this is about so much more than the food. One hesitates to use Manuel from Fawlty Towers as a reference point, given the Harts' Anglo-Spanish heritage, but there truly were touches of that farcical ineptness in the service we encountered over the course of our midweek dinner.

Still, let's focus on the good stuff. The room, for example, which has the same updated Twenties glamour as The Ivy and J Sheekey, all clubbable parquet floors, golden leather banquettes and foxed mirrors. The menu also has obvious parallels with The Ivy: simple British classics with an emphasis on grilled meat and fish, and a seasonal focus.

Given the Harts' reputation for serving excellent seafood and shellfish, we stuck to that end of the menu for our starters, and were generally happy; particularly with the brown shrimp on toasted pain Poilâne, and a silky, chilli-spiked crab tagliatelle. Fresh langoustines came with superb mayonnaise, and Colchester oysters on the half shell with red onion and Tabasco.

The oysters, though, didn't reach the table until the other starters were almost finished, and our waiter's general skittishness and anecdote-interrupting incursions put a serious damper on the evening. After taking our order, he returned to interrupt another punchline, saying that Chef wasn't happy with the turbot and recommended ordering a different fish. The substituted skate with capers was good, as was slow-cooked pork shoulder, aromatic with juniper berries, served with a strip of flattened crackling and apple sauce. Veal sweetbreads were cooked rather too rare, while from a variety of beef cuts served on and off the bone we sampled a decent sirloin steak, deep-flavoured under a good caramelised surface, with excellent triple-cooked chips and Bearnaise sauce.

By this stage, we were more or less alone in the room, apart from a couple about whom we knew rather more at the end of the evening than we would have liked – and if you're reading this, nice, dark-haired lady, don't go back with him, you deserve better. Having endured anecdotus interruptus all night from our waiter, it was galling to be then left alone, with no one ever coming to take our pudding order. Maybe Chef wasn't happy with the puddings? When Harry ordered a consolatory brandy he was told the digestif trolley hadn't yet arrived, and all they could offer was a Martell Cordon Bleu at £9.50 a glass. "There's a Threshers down the road!" as one of my guests pointed out.

Meanwhile the sound of hilarity and piano music drifted downstairs from the private members' bar, into which the Hart brothers and their entourage had long since disappeared, apparently taking their front-of-house team with them. Our only encounter with the owners came when one approached to supervise the clearing of our table, not making eye contact or asking us how our meal was, but fussing around and standing on Harry's foot in the process. All of which reinforced my opinion (OK, let's call it a prejudice) that the brothers may be good restaurateurs, but they're not natural hosts.

There's a reason The Ivy and its sister restaurants are always packed, and it's only partly to do with the food; much more, it's about their ability to make diners feel special, and every meal there like a treat. It may look effortless, but it's bloody hard to get right. Something I suspect the Hart brothers are now discovering.

Quo Vadis, 26-29 Dean Street, London W1 (020-7437 9585)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 2 stars
Service 2 stars

Around £60 a head, including wine

Side Orders: Classic revivals
By Madeleine Lim

The Peat Inn
David Wilson put this restaurant on the map 30 years ago – and when Geoffrey Smeddle took over in 2006 he took it to new heights with his brand of classic French cuisine.

Near St Andrews, Fife (01334 840206)

Walnut Tree Inn
Famous for more than 30 years, this Italian classic lost its sparkle a few years ago – and was triumphantly revamped by Shaun Hill this year. Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire (01873 852797)

Scott's
This celebrated seafood restaurant and oyster bar attracted the glitterati in the Fifties and Sixties; in 2006 Caprice Holdings restored it to its former glory.

20 Mount Street, London W1 (020-7495 7309)

The Box Tree
Forty years ago, this Yorkshire eaterie was a legend, but earlier this decade it fell on hard times – until its Michelin-starred renaissance, courtesy of Simon and Rena Gueller.

35-37 Church Street, Ilkley (01943 608484)

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin