If you want to understand what British cooking is about - not the magpie character of of modern British but the genteel English country house tradition - head for Soho where Jeremy Lee has taken up residence behind the stoves at Quo Vadis.
This is fantastically good news for those of us who previously had to schlep down to the Blueprint Café at the Design Museum at Tower Bridge to enjoy his cooking. I had one of the best meals of my life there when I was ‘researching’ a feature on what to drink for the millenium when he cooked against the backdrop of some of the finest wines on the planet. His simple, beautifully judged food couldn’t have been better suited to them. Lee, I’m sure, would be more than happy to be referred to as a cook rather than a chef.
So what did we eat? A lot, I’m afraid to say. Pieces of lightly cooked salsify wrapped in filo, baked and dusted in parmesan which surely rivals Rowley Leigh’s parmesan custard as one of the sexiest small dishes in London. (Order two rounds.) A ridiculously good warm eel and horseradish sandwich. A light fluffy bloater paté which turned up unannounced borne by Lee himself who knows my host and me well. You’ll need to take account of this in the review though we did pay for the rest of our meal.
And a riot of a beetroot and egg salad with three different colours of beets and a wild scattering of herbs which I wish I’d ordered instead of a rather austere pork terrine which, despite its faultless spicing and well-judged dab of mustard, was possibly the least interesting dish of the evening. And that was just the starters.
Hare pie was a triumph and at £14 significantly cheaper than the pie I whinged about a while ago at St John’s. In fact Lee’s Quo Vadis is rather like a flirtatious more feminine St John’s. Less challenging, more playful and certainly less expensive.
The pie also gave rise to the best match of the evening - a glass of peppery St Joseph which held its own without adding to the richness. The wine list is very decent overall with some well priced options by the glass and bottle.
I was so absorbed I didn’t even bother with my companion's skate with black butter and capers. It was fresh. It was fine.
Puddings (not desserts, note) were a slight disappointment by comparison but we were probably too full to appreciate them anyway. A slightly heavy lemon posset with rhubarb - a nice combination of flavours, not the best posset I’ve ever tasted and a not quite almondy enough almond cake with a not quite orangey enough St Clements curd and Jersey cream. Maybe the pastry chef comes from the previous regime.
Service could also do with sharpening and speeding up. The unexpected success of Lee's arrival has meant a rather langorous emergence of dishes from the kitchen. But these are early days. This is already one of the most charming places to eat in Soho. And that’s saying something.
Quo Vadis is at 26-27 Dean Street, London W1D 3LL. Tel: 0207 437 9585. Although it's a members' club the restaurant is open to the public with a pre- and post-theatre supper for £17.50 for two courses and £20 for three.