100 Wardour Street: It's school of Soho House, for people who can't become members
100 Wardour Street: It's school of Soho House, for people who can't become members

100 Wardour Street, restaurant review: Steeped in music history, an address with a lot to live up to

100 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1 (0208 022 9539). Around £32 a head, before wine and service

John Walsh@johnhenrywalsh
Saturday 20 February 2016 00:31
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Ah, the importance of a good address! And in the memories of London baby boomers, few addresses make your heart thud like No 90 Wardour Street, old home of the Marquee Club. The venerable great-grandaddy of rock venues has had more homes in the last half-century than Zsa Zsa Gabor, but from 1964 to 1988, it was in the heart of the Soho grid, playing host to the cream of Sixties rock'n'roll and their descendants. Literally (the) Cream – plus The Who, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin and later David Bowie and the Sex Pistols.

If everybody who later claimed to have been in The Marquee for the appearance of the Sex Pistols in 1976 had actually been in the club, it would have collapsed long before 1988, when the vibration of thousand-watts speakers over the years made the building's façade finally subside; it had to be demolished. Three new outlets rose, phoenix-like, from the rubble. The main clubroom became Terence Conran's enormous Meza restaurant, the basement morphed into the Floridita bar, and whatever remained became the entrance to Soho Lofts.

But why the blazes, I hear you cry, are you telling us the history of No 90 while purporting to review No 100 Wardour Street? Because, by some environmental legerdemain, in knocking down and rebuilding the former, it came back as the latter. There's still confusion when you arrive today, as you count the door-numbers in Wardour Street, but finally you see the "100" sign high up on the wall.

It's the newest thing from the D&D group. The initials conceal the names of Des Gunewardena and David Loewi, who bought the Conran chain in 2006 and now own 35 major restaurants in London. Finding this one isn't easy, though. First you try the warm-looking bar left of the sign – that's the Cigar Lounge. You join the queue on the main staircase – but it's for a corporate thing downstairs to which you're not invited. Finally you ask the smiling skinny girl at the lectern and learn that the restaurant is right over there.

You approach it across a large echoey space. Some drinkers are ranged around a glum-looking bar that's angled so you don't get any dazzle of friendly bottles. The tables are set against an oxblood leather banquette. The walls are black recovered wood with a moiré veneer. The main design innovation is, where you'd expect to see a dangling light, a dangling flex with a three-pin plug socket, so you can charge your laptop whenever.

What a boon that is for the kind of people who have working breakfasts on their laptops at Soho House. Looking around, the décor looks familiar: leather armchairs, batik ruggery, black fireplaces and standard lamps with tasselly/frondy shades. It's school of Soho House, for people who can't become members. In a side-room, the TV plays black-and-white footage from the Marquee's heyday before a full-sized pool table, while volumes of reference books line the walls. It doesn't evoke the Marquee Club; it suggests that two unusually convincing salesmen, from Lillywhites and Encyclopaedia Britannica, arrived at the door of No 100 while the designers were wondering what to do with the space.

What of the food? The Lounge menu is surprisingly ordinary – "all-day" hotel room-service dining for visitors tired of their hotels. Although the food was well cooked. Mini-snack skewers of chicken were marinated in tarragon, garlic, thyme and green chilli, and were tender and juicy. Crispy fried squid offered more palate-scythingly sharp batter than actual squid, but were satisfying. Grilled chorizo with roquette and tomato was fresh and softly spicy, but nothing to blow up your skirt.

Angie's fish stew was a welcome blast of comfort food on a cold night – the cod, cuttlefish and monkfish all tight and supple in the dense liquid, the chorizo (I know – it turns up everywhere at No 100) giving the butter beans an embracing smokiness. My crispy pork belly arrived in a geometrically perfect rectangle, as if cut from a school-meals catering tray – but again, it was well cooked, crunchy and rich, fatly tender, and given a wake-up smack of salsa verde and a sensationally huge braised endive.

A blueberry–poached pineapple pudding looked as if it had been dropped on the floor and the ingredients reassembled. It added to a feeling that the new owners don't quite know what they're doing with this noble address. Treating the ground-floor lounge like a fine-dining area rather than an airport dining facility would be a start, as would lighting the bar area and losing the encyclopaedias. Messrs D and D might usefully ask themselves: would any of the stars of the old Marquee want to eat here if they returned from obscurity (or death?) Would Eric Clapton? Would David Bowie? It really isn't a place for Heroes.

Food ***
Ambience **
Service ***

100 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1 (0208 022 9539). Around £32 a head, before wine and service

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