The Quality Chop House
88-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
Nearest tube: Farringdon
“Unfancy, ungarnished, school of St John bruisers arranged on vintage, mismatched crockery………I could go into food-porny recollections of what we eat on repeat visits, or I could just type some recent menu items while drooling over my keyboard.” Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian
The Quality Chop House opened as a “Progressive Working Class Caterer” in 1869 and has been serving humble grub (chops and pies etc) ever since. It has had some hard times over the past decade, including an unsuccessful stint as a meatball emporium, but in 2012 it was taken over by Will Lander and Josie Stead and has been receiving rave reviews ever since. Lander (son of the FT’s food critic) has something of a midas touch – see my review of Portland – and Stead’s impressive CV includes a stint as GM of Dinner by Heston. The restaurant is adjoined by a Quality Chop butcher’s shop and grocery, they also run butchery classes teaching the rudiments of meat hacking before treating you to a three course meal. Lander’s mother is wine critic Jancis Robinson, so unsurprisingly they have a stonking wine list with a good range of reasonably priced options, they also have no corkage charge on Mondays. Head chef Shaun Searley’s menu is unfussy and reasonably priced – the dinner menu offers a neat choice of 5 starters (£7-9.5) and 4 mains (£14-20).
I started with a pork and pistachio terrine with pickled walnuts (£7) – this was a simple, rustic dish and the meat was moist though a bit underseasoned. We also had a charcuterie plate of meats from the Quality Chop butchery – the highlight of this was the coppa (a salami made using pork neck and shoulder) which was packed with salty, garlicky flavour and had a soft, light texture. As a (greedy) intermediate course we also sampled one of their signature dishes, Longhorn mince on dripping toast – this was a cardiologists’ nightmare, amazingly rich – the meat was melt in the mouth and had possibly been spiked with anchovy to add extra decadence; the toast had been lightly fried and soaked up the rich, fatty gravy of the mince.
For main course I had veal rump (£18) which was fantastic – the meat had been well rested so that it was succulent and the fat crispy and moist. The dish was served without any sauce and with simple greens on the side – no accompaniments were required because the meat had lots of character and was really juicy.
Verdict: unfussy and good value food in a cool setting 7/10
St. John Bakery Room
41 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
Nearest tube: London Bridge
“For foodies making pilgrimages to Britain, the shrine of St John is the equivalent of Santiago de Compostela for those hungry for soul food.” Jasper Gerard, The Telegraph
Fergus Henderson, he of violently striped suit (apparently made from a butcher’s apron) and little round glasses, trained as an architect before turning to cooking, eschewing formal training and instead learning his trade in the kitchens of west London brasseries. After a successful spell cooking at the French House pub in Soho he opened St. John in Clerkenwell in 1994, receiving widespread acclaim and eventually a Michelin star in 2009. Henderson has lived with Parkinson’s Disease since the mid-nineties which has limited his ability to cook, but recent treatment using deep brain simulation has improved his mobility and allowed him to spend more time in the kitchen. He popularised the idea of “nose to tail” cooking, including the use of offal, and has been one of the principal exponents of British cookery across the globe. His no frills philosophy extends to the design of his restaurants which are always simply whitewashed and sparsely furnished with “no music, no art, no garnishes, no flowers, no service charge”. The St John empire has been expanding in recent years, with a bread and wine outlet in Spitalfields and a hotel and restaurant in Chinatown. The most recent outpost is on super-hip Maltby Street and is ostensibly called a bakery but is essentially a little bistro with a short but sweet menu (11 items long including desserts, keenly priced £5-15).
We started with St John’s famous mince, served decadently on dripping toast (£10.8) – I think this had been prepared using the Henderson method which involves browning the meat then braising in beef stock with carrot and thyme. The mince was of great quality, fairly lean and perfectly seasoned – the flavour of the beef certainly came to the fore but in the battle of the mince I think The Quality Chop House wins because of the extra interest lended by their secret ingredients (anchovy? special mushroom paste?). Crab meat on toast (£8.5) was simple and well executed – the chef had used brown meat which was really fresh and slightly sweet.
Arbroath smokie with roasted parsnips (£9.7) was a homely delight – the fish was served whole with a simple butter sauce which toned down its bursts of smoke and sea. The combination of haddock and parsnips worked really well, with the sweet, light parsnips neutralising the smoky broodiness of the fish.
Verdict: measured, simple cooking 7/10