In recent weeks Quo Vadis has been the restaurant on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Jeremy Lee, of Blueprint Café and Great British Menu fame, has made the move across the river to bring his St John style of cooking to this classic Soho restaurant. In the world of food this has been greeted like a big money move would be in the Premiership; think Rooney to Man Utd, and I suppose that makes the Hart brothers Alex Ferguson. It’s certainly a shrewd bit of business, Quo Vadis was doing all right, it’s certainly a Soho institution, but wasn’t serving up anything particularly brilliant and Lee’s cooking at Blueprint had won him a lot of plaudits, he was always going to bring a new buzz to the place.
I’d never been to Blueprint, but I had been to Quo Vadis, which I had remembered as a nice, if rather formal affair, that didn’t leave me gasping for another visit. Mr Lee’s arrival seemed like the right time to give it another go and I’d already read a number of glowing reviews by the time I’d walked through the door, and I was looking forward to a fun meal. We got there a little early so decided to have a drink at the bar. When asking for a cocktail menu the bartender looked me straight in the eye, and without hesitation announced “I am the menu”. A little cheesy but we rolled with it and to his credit he produced a lovely gin martini for me and a few other delightful concoctions. A good way to get started to a what turned out to be a rather boozy evening.
And the food? First thing to be ordered was the eel sandwich, which everyone had been raving about. Smoky, fleshy eel, lathered in horseradish sauce in thick white bread, it packs a real punch and I could easily have it at least once a week. Oysters weren’t up to the same standard sadly, a little on the watery side and not very fleshy, but they were only downer on what was a fantastic meal. Baked salsify with parmesan was a delight; crunchy, salty and cheesy, real comfort food. Grilled squid was just the right mixture of texture and flavour with a lovely fennel salad, another win.
Mains carried on in the same vein; first class, British, seasonal cooking. The mutton was one of the best things I’ve had this year. It was absolutely gorgeous; meaty and packed full of flavour, if it’s on the menu it’s a must. Game pie was another example of comfort food done to the highest standard. Delicate pastry, loads of meat, and a delectable sauce, lovely stuff. The chicken from the theatre menu was probably the least interesting of the three mains but could still pass muster, it’s just not something I’d order.
By the time pudding came round my memory gets a little hazy, vanilla ice cream with some sort of chocolate pudding was tasty enough but the mains are what stick in the mind. By this point the man himself was doing a tour off the dining room, he seemed to know everyone in the restaurant, but he still found the time to come over and say hi, and a lovely man he is too; mad as a hatter but great fun and a great chef.
Quo Vadis is going to become a regular haunt of mine, if you’re in need of a place with delicious, affordable grub in a genial atmosphere and lots of booze then this is the place to go, you’ll probably find me at the bar.