It may be a cliché, but it is true: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Given the gushing praise from others of the service, and specifically the front of house, I too had expected to be wafted through reception by an obsequious, yet sincere, immaculately groomed person, treating us like royalty.
Alas, it could not have been further from reality. Having been propelled into the room via the wildly spinning door, there was nobody there to greet us. No worries, it was but a trice before Sam or Eddie (sorry, I can’t tell them apart) appeared, at which point we should have been greeted and wafted through reception like the royalty we so clearly are not. But no: somebody who had come in after us bounded in front, barging us aside and greeting Eddie or Sam like a long lost relative. Instead of acknowledging this with a quick “hi” then getting on with sorting us out, Sam or Eddie returned the salutation and disappeared into the restaurant with the beanie wearing bounder before we could say: “hi I have a reservation in the name of….”.
It seems that this sycophancy to the regulars isn’t restricted to Eddie or Sam, as the chef too (serving a cheese plate when we arrived) spent more time glad-handing with a table of hysterical ladies-of-a-certain-age than behind the stove. Now I know that you have to keep your regulars happy, they are after all the mainstay of your establishment, but I eat out a lot, have spent more than my fair share of both mine and the marketing department’s budget at Fino and Barrafina, so how do Sam or Eddie expect me to become a regular if there is so clearly a two tier dining structure: those who we know and the rest?
And I could well have become a regular: I have eaten here a couple of times before, both in its MPW days and the Early Hart Period, but, with the arrival of the most excellent Jeremy Lee at the stove (well, sort of), the cooking is the best that it has ever been here.
Having eventually made it into the bar, it is clear that the room too has grown up; it has lost the Damien Hirsts that cluttered up the place, is lighter, airier, the tables are spread out sufficiently to allow space to talk without interference.
The menu is pared down, St John style, with the names of the ingredients and no fuss: “ox liver, sage, onion”, “artichoke vinaigrette”, “onglet”, “middlewhite” etc. There is even a helpful weather forecast: it being summer, ours was “fine and deluge 16°C”.
The squid and samphire salad, Linconshire Poacher with asparagus and the crab soup starters were all excellently prepared, extremely moreish and showed a superb understanding of ingredients. The saltiness of the samphire complimenting the mild flavours of the perfectly cooked squid; the richness of the crab bursting through; the strong cheese a perfect accompaniment to the asparagus: a British answer to the more usual parmesan.
Mains too continued the theme: Ox liver a stronger version of calf, flavoured with long cooked down onions and some sage; lamb’s sweetbreads not overpowered by the accompanying almonds, offset perfectly by peas and mint.
Whilst we couldn’t go the whole hog on the desserts, we had to try that ‘80s throwback: St Emilion au Chocolat: a pure chocolate slice, anointed with crunched up macaroons. No, of course we didn’t need it after all those chips, but it was bloody superb nonetheless.
The wine list isn’t long, but is very well priced. In fact, even though you have to order sides separately, as none of the dishes comes with much more than the main ingredient identified, the total bill, whilst hardly a bargain, did not elicit the usual sharp intake of breath when it arrived.
Along with the food, the standout advantage that QV has over all of the other (often more trendy) places popping up around this part of Soho is that it takes bookings. There is the de rigueur time restriction on how long you can sit, but at least you don’t need to bring a sleeping bag, thermos and umbrella to ensure that you don’t die of hyperthermia, starve or get soaked to the skin whilst waiting to be granted an audience with your food.
If only I could be a regular, then it would be perfect.