The Quality Chop House. It’s on my list.
You can’t really write about The Quality Chop House without talking about its history. I was just going to mention that it had been a restaurant since 1869 and leave it at that. Thing is though, as a property lawyer by profession and an historian by education I can’t quite leave it there.
So, combining the two disciplines, I find myself down the rabbit hole that is the English Heritage website, the bit that tells you why properties are listed. The Quality Chop House (or shall we say The QCH) has rather a detailed listing:
“EXTERIOR: Terraced house, with restaurant. 1890s by Roland Plumber; restaurant early 1900s with (possibly) slightly later facade. …..Twelve square lights to each side with central three-light strips, those to left reading: ‘Quick Service’ ‘London’s noted cup of Tea’, ‘civility’; those to right reading: ‘snacks’, ‘Progressive Working Class Caterers’, ‘Best Quality’. Painted wooden sign over.
INTERIOR: of restaurant: nine bays of oak benches and oak tables bolted to floor and wall, in two lines with central passage. …Benches and tables have ornate cast-iron legs. Linenfold timber panelling with shelf brackets to walls, ceiling and frieze of ‘steleorite’ decorative tin panels, central pendant gas heater. Dog-leg staircase in corner with end scrolls and turned balusters. Kitchen to rear reached via central door through oak screen with composite pilasters and sliding glazed hatch. Probably unique example of early C20 working class restaurant, surviving complete with all fittings of high quality.”
Ah, those benches. Lovely to look at but a pain in the arse. Literally. My posterior remembers them from my previous visit, over twenty years ago.
I have a long history with The Quality Chophouse and used to eat here regularly in the mid 1990s, often post-theatre, when their fishcakes were a thing of beauty. I moved, it changed, I stopped going there.
The QCH has been all over the food press for a couple of years now, since being taken over by (amongst others) Will Lander, son of Nick and Jancis Robinson and with that sort of food and wine heritage it was unlikely that Mr Lander junior was going to produce something uninteresting.
The food matches the decor and is resolutely British. It’s no coincidence that they use the words “nose to tail” on their website; this is very St John-esque in feel. They offer a simple, seasonal menu, changing three times a day, according to the website, and have great set menu specials.
It’s fairly empty when we get there at 1:15 on a Sunday and fortunately I had noted on the website that you can choose to sit in the wine bar if you don’t want to share or prefer not to suffer numb bum. The menu is short and sweet because on Sunday it is mainly about the roast. Before the main event, however, I decide on that least adventurous of dishes, beetroot and goat’s curd. I’d never realised how ubiquitous it was until it was pointed out to me, but I’m still ordering it. The version here is exemplary. Lightly pickled chunks of pale and deep purple beetroot, vibrantly fresh curd, chilled dressed leek and tarragon. It is saved from the bland by the toasted sunflower seeds scattered over it which add texture and an unexpected amount of flavour. I manage to mop up the goat’s curd remains with the (complimentary) excellent sourdough and deep yellow homemade butter.
I very much like that I can get a vegetarian roast, as my favourite part of the trad Sunday meal is the trimmings. It is all spot on, from the crisp potatoes to the large light Yorkshire pudding, the carrots and the King Henry’s cabbage. The vegetarian gravy has a depth which makes me question its credentials, it’s so deep dark and rich. Slabs of celeriac stand in for the meat, braised. I do not feel the absence of animal protein and please let me divert you for moment to the beauty of the braised celeriac, especially for those of you who are interested in low carbohydrate cheats. This particular joy was revealed to me by the very talented Edward Schneider and he has written about it here. It is worth the faff.
C is not quite as enamoured of his traditional version, beef; two cuts, a braised next and a roast silverside. For £22, though, I think it’s good value but he’s not keen on the cut and not for the first time, our views diverge. I think the neck tastes fine.
Because we really need, a dessert of a crisp meringue on a bed of whipped cream with a piping of chestnut is ordered. A triumph of description over reality. The advertised buttermilk (the waste product from the home-churned butter) is without discernible flavour and the Mast chocolate – which I am surprised to see on the menu after the controversy: see here – is grated so finely over the dish it is almost impossible to taste. The buttermilk. A case of waste not, want more. Not everything needs to be recycled.
Special mention must go to the excellent and fascinating wine list, beautifully written and containing much of interest, including a 1973 Rioja (£79) in their “old but fresh” section, a title which I feel could have wider application. They also offer a few fine wines by the glass, using the Coravin system, a plus for those of us for whom quality trumps quantity.
Verdict: The Quality Chop House is a charming and interesting neighbourhood restaurant, where the staff try hard to please and the food is modern but not scarily so, using only the freshest ingredients. I applaud their policy of free sparkling and still water, such a little thing but so generous. There are some fashionable dishes (hello Brown Sugar Tart) but lots of fairly traditional comfort cooking too. If this wasn’t a trek across town for me I’d be there quite often as I like the honesty of it and it’s good value. And there’s a food shop next door.
Postscript : Interested in all things accurate, I see that English Heritage thought that this was an almost unique example of an early 20thC working class restaurant. This confuses me because the restaurant dates from 1869 but no matter. I look up the E.Pellicci Cafe and not only because we have a Pellicci working in our office.
I find this: “HISTORY: The E. Pellicci Cafe was opened in 1900, however it is the present shopfront and café interior, dating from 1946, that make this such a remarkable place. This work was fitted in the context of the period just after the war. This was the year of the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, ….. and a few years later, the Festival of Britain brought a style and design awakening to the Capital. This was also to be a period of increased Italian immigration and a great number of new cafes and espresso bars started opening up, particularly in London. These new institutions were a modern continuation of a long London tradition that started with late-C17 coffee houses that densely populated the city, through late-C19 tea rooms, and 1930s Milk Bars. In the last few years of the 1950s, the number of cafes in Britain doubled from 1000 to 2000…. they were to serve the new class of teenagers and other cool customers.”