It's been a while now since new chef Jeremy Lee took over at Soho institution Quo Vadis, and even longer since the Hart brothers refurbishment that brought it back onto foodie radars after a decade of sliding standards.
The space gives the impression of being bigger than it is. Room after room of fresh, clean and chic off-whites and brasses open up as you penetrate deeper while thick white table linens mute the noise from tightly packed neighbours, the majority of them the loud and jolly old boys of the advertising type I thought had abandoned Soho altogether.
The little touches from the staff are delicately assured. There's still or sparkling filtered water, a banter if you need, an efficiency of clear and serve if you're obviously otherwise engaged and an eye for attention matched by some of the seasonal dishes on the well turned out rustic menu.
And it's from that short menu that we grab a short but perfectly formed lunch. I wistfully but worthily skirt a chicken and guinea fowl pie, but suffer agonies when it turns up centimetres away on the neighbouring table, huge and gleaming, its buttery smell wafting over the slim divide between the tables. I'm also deeply envious of a huge hunk of bleeding ruby hued onglet steak that arrives next to it, served up with golden railway sleeper-like triple cooked chips.
Thankfully, I get to sample some of those chips with one of the other substantial mains on offer. Coqulet isn't a bird you often see on restaurant menus. In these days of tightly managed animal husbandry too few young roosters, like their bovine equivalents, get out of early infancy. This one made a great case for them to hit more tables though. A hefty half bird was served simply roasted, with gloriously garlicky herb butter squashed into every crevice. Packed with taste, soft, supple and meaty, the bird is more than a match for its stuffing.
Alongside that, there were two simple but effective fishy salads, both ostensibly starters, that worked well to create a combined main course. Young garlic shoots, crushed olives, peas and mint came together well, though the mint was a little overpowering. Beautifully cooked squid with asparagus was much better, a lovely mix of flavours and textures.
It's an accomplished restaurant experience, as you'd expect from two of the capital's more accomplished restaurateurs, and has a quirky but polished charm that should ensure it retains its place near the top of the London dining pile this time round.
Top image nicked from the restaurant -
I was on a business lunch so photography wasn't an option