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Whitcomb’s: Delicious French cuisine in an oasis tucked away off Leicester Square

Away from the bustle and grime of London’s busiest square is a corner of contemporary calm. Kate Ng discovers that it’s easy to eat too much at the newly opened Whitcomb’s

Wednesday 15 December 2021 16:12 GMT
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Whitcomb’s is a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of central London
Whitcomb’s is a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of central London (Whitcomb’s/Purple PR)

It’s easy to sneer at Leicester Square and all of its garishness – the sheer sea of humanity, the queues outside the Lego store, the garish lights of M&M’s World, the street performers painted silver, the constant fear you’re going to be pickpocketed at any moment… I could go on. Its only winning quality is that Chinatown is a stone’s throw away from it. So with all this in mind, you could forgive me for being slightly sceptical about being invited to Whitcomb’s, a French Mediterranean restaurant within the newly opened Londoner Hotel.

But it was a pleasant relief to step inside and get away from the bustle and grime of Leicester Square. The hotel touts itself as a “super boutique hotel”, although, in all honesty, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. It’s clearly a (quite swanky, I must say) business hotel, judging by all the business types milling around in the lobby.

We are ushered into the restaurant, which is softly lit and airy, its walls and even the ceiling covered with contemporary, modern shapes. Oddly, there is a table laden with displays of produce in the middle of the dining room, which feels out of place. But cornucopia aside, the space is elegant and fancy enough that I wonder if I should’ve worn heels instead of my everyday trainers.

Kevin, who turns out to be the server of dreams, talks us through the menu. He tells us that people who live in the French Mediterranean generally have two (two!) starters, a small plate and a pasta or risotto dish, followed by a shared main with sides, and then dessert. I, having never been to the French Mediterranean, have no choice but to trust Kevin, my eyes widenening at the thought of all the food that is to come.

We decide on the tartare de thon (tuna tartare with confit egg yolk and Oscietra caviar), fromage au four (baked Gruyere, Emmental, Cognac and Dijon mustard, hold the pancetta, served with baguette slices), followed by a rigatoni au homard (seared lobster with rigatoni and Scotch bonnet labneh creme) to share for our starters.

Without a doubt, the tartare de thon was the star of the show. First of all, it’s always a pleasure to break an egg yolk and watch it ooze, coating everything it comes into contact with, which in this case was the delicate cubes of tuna and perfect little spheres of caviar. The dish was rich but a citrus tang cut through the unctuousness, the fatty fish melted on the tongue… my mouth waters thinking of it now. It is a dish worth taking your time over.

There was no such luxury with the deliciously boozy fromage au four. Although it came in a sizzling hot skillet, it was a battle against time to eat as much cheese as you could before it became a stringy mess, and even more before it set completely. Perhaps it would be wise to take a leaf out of the Swiss’s book and serve it over a small flame . It would certainly make for a more relaxed start to the meal.

When the rigatoni au homard arrived, I was surprised to see how generous the chunks of lobster were (although with a price tag of £28, perhaps I should have had even higher expectations). The perfectly al dente rigatoni lent a much needed bite to the soft lobster, all generously covered in the moreish labneh creme, which only had a hint of heat from the Scotch bonnet. But I’m starting to worry that we might already have bitten off more than we can chew. As the mains arrive I feel like I already need a break.

But the sight and smell of the sea bass a la mariniere (pan-seared sea bass with white wine, parsley, shallots and lemon), along with frites and champignons au beurre (pan-seared chestnut mushrooms with garlic and thyme butter), rejuvenates me, and I’m more than ready to dig in.

Now, it is my opinion that crispy fish skin is one of life’s great pleasures, and soggy fish skin one of life’s great tragedies. To my delight, this was the former. The sea bass skin was seared perfectly, making a light but satisfying crunch as I break into it with my knife. My dining partner is not a fan of fish skin, but that’s only to his detriment and my utmost pleasure, as I greedily take the skin he casts aside.

Chocolate pot de creme with spiced rum and cocoa nib nougatine (Whitcomb’s/Purple PR)

The creamy mariniere sauce, which smells so delightfully of shallots and herbs, is incredibly addictive – I find myself spooning more of it over everything, particularly the shatteringly crunchy frites. I even contemplate mopping it up with bread left over from the fondue. My tongue cries: “Yes, more!” My stomach cries: “Save room for dessert!” The latter wins.

Kevin returns, all smiles, and offers us the dessert menu. My guest and I agree to share just one dessert, but give us 15 minutes would you Kevin? We might need to nap first.

We order a pot de creme au chocolat (chocolate pot de creme with spiced rum and cocoa nib nougatine), which is much larger than expected. The alcohol-laced creme is dark and silky, ever so slightly too rich if it weren’t for the bittersweet of the nougatine providing a much needed crunch. Despite our sighs and groans of being too full, the dish is taken away clean.

The classically rich, creamy, buttery French food that Whitcomb’s offers is done simply and well, but it was the unexpected accents of tangy, spicy, bitter that I found most appealing during my meal there. And, surprisingly for a hotel restaurant, the meal was good value for money, considering our main and sides came up to £43 and would have fed three people very comfortably.

Although I was thoroughly out of my element being surrounded by business people, why should they have all the fun? Whitcomb’s is an oasis from the chaos of Leicester Square, serving up thoroughly delicious food. I’ll be back to try the rest of the menu.

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