I get the Picture.
Taking the morning off at short notice, my thoughts turned to food. For a change. I decided to go and have breakfast at Honey & Co. On entering I see a well-known food blogger on his own and also Nicholas Lander, having breakfast. I feel vindicated.
Clearly turning into my mother and the sort of person who, a few years ago would have made me tut, I say hello to said foodblogger and remind him that we met at a PR event for a City restaurant. Which I didn’t blog about because my rule is that if I do a PR do and don’t like it, I won’t write it. I can’t bite the hand that feeds me. I don’t quite subscribe to the “if you can’t say anything nice” school but on my own dollar? I can say what I think.
And I got chatting to the food blogger and two hours later, and I came away with a raft of recommendations. Result. One of them was this, on Great Portland Street. I didn’t pretend to have heard of it, so my foodie cred is zero, but when I mentioned it to N, my client partner in food crime, he jumped at it. Said he knew I was going to say it before I did.
Because I will travel for food, but not quite as far as Shoreditch for lunchtime feeding, Fitzrovia is one of my regular lunchtime haunts. Such joys as Newman Street Tavern, Lima, Fino – these are all places I use for client lunches. I have to get out of the stale air of my bit of Mayfair, to somewhere a bit less dead.
In the slightly nowhere bit of Fitzrovia that is the bottom of Great Portland Street, this sparse, uncluttered, simple restaurant is putting out great food at low prices and is a welcome addition to the Fitzrovia club. They haven’t spent a fortune on the fit-out, No matter.
The menu is divided into three main sections: vegetable, fish and meat. In each section, three or four dishes. The only side dish is fries and aïoli. Really, it’s the only side dish you could ever need. They talk my language.
The very helpful Aussie waitress suggested that we have five plates between us, unless we were very hungry. Because we cannot obviously just have the suggested five plates, because heaven forbid, we may not be overstuffed, we also order the lamb bites at £1 each.
And we were worried that something which only cost £1 could not be substantial enough for us, whilst we were waiting for the real food to arrive, so we order four of them.
Slow cooked, intense shreds of lamb, mixed with spinach and possibly nutmeg, deep-fried in breadcrumbs, these were little deep-fried bombs of meaty flavour.
And looking at the menu, we were drawn to the meat dishes. Because we couldn’t decide which ones to order, we ordered all of them. We do not subscribe to the school of less is more.
For me, the stand-out dish was pressed pork with barbecue sauce and watermelon. Sweet and sour, salty and intense. But really, all of it was good. Every dish had a number of elements and layers and was well presented. The most expensive of the dishes we ordered was £8, which was what we paid for the Lebanese fried chicken, bulgur wheat and sweetcorn. I’m not sure what the Lebanese element was in the fried chicken, but it was similar to Southern fried chicken and entirely delicious.
And since we have to have a nod to vegetables and chips don’t count, we had the ravioli of Italian greens and ricotta, fennel and chilli (£7). Fresh home-made ravioli, well balanced by the stir-fried peas and broccoli.
The only slightly duff note? The fries were too salty. I managed to force myself though.
One very good thing about these sharing plates is the fact that they actually anticipate sharing. The rare beef came as two chunks, as did the fried chicken. And the chocolate mousse. No accusations of unfair portion-allocation from N. Unlike last time.
We negotiated a little over the dessert. N wanted everything but the blueberry and almond pie, with yoghurt ice cream: I didn’t want anything other than that. Normally we disagree over fees – this was much more serious.
We compromised on chocolate mousse with raspberries and honeycomb (£4): two scoops of delicious, intense mousse, scattered with honeycomb. I know it’s a crowd-pleaser and easy but it did the job. I could have lived without the raspberries but then you know my views on fruit and chocolate.
We had worried about there not being enough food. Our worries were unfounded. The meal was £54. I can’t remember when I have spent that little, for this level of cooking. Granted we did not have any wine but we were certainly not short of food. And a massive bargain is the set menu at £15 a head for three courses. I didn’t even notice that there was no bread. That’s how good it was.
This food reminds me of that at Honey & Co and also Gail’s kitchen. Eclectic, careful slightly middle-eastern modish cooking. Decent ingredients prepared by a sure hand. Not faultless, but certainly spectacularly good value for the quality of what you find on the plate. Such good value that we wondered whether these were soft opening prices. I hope not.