A City restaurant in the crypt of St Paul's spells an identity crisis

ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL, ST PAUL'S CHURCHYARD, LONDON EC4M 8AD (entrance through north-west crypt door)
Tel: 020 7248 2469
Web www.restaurantatstpauls.co.uk

Cost per person without wine: £20

ONCE, stepping down into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral must have been a spooky experience. All those corpses and bones – even if they do belong to the likes of the Duke of Wellington and Nelson – are enough to put you off your lunch. What turned me off though was that the sun was blazing outside. The last place I wanted to be, if I am honest, was in a small vaulted room underground with about 300,000 tonnes of stone between me and the weather (it didn’t prevent mobile phone reception, however).

Setting that aside, the room is a little peculiar. It’s on two levels and the fixtures and fittings are inoffensively modern without quite reaching the heights where the word “stylish” might be pressed into action; it looked like it had stopped halfway on the journey from canteen to cool and it made me wonder who this place is aimed at. Is it for business lunches, or for tourists? The food would decide it.

The grub here is Modern British, with dishes like asparagus with poached duck egg, pressed rabbit with carrot (Bugs Bunny will be turning in his grave), Barnsley chop and steamed sea trout with champ. The house aperitif is a cutesy – maybe a little too cutesy – Britain Royale, a glass of Carter’s English sparkling wine with Pimms, for eight quid, if you please.

For starters, I went for Montgomery cheddar and onion tart and my companion treacle-cured salmon. I was expecting a piquant dish, but sadly they had somehow managed to bleed the flavour out of the ingredients. It was a disappointment. The verdict on the salmon was that it was fine but, she said with a shrug, “nothing spectacular”.

Still, I had higher hopes for the mains. My roast grey mullet with artichokes and broad beans was a very washed-out looking plate of food, a sad mix of grey-greens. The fish was fine, and the beans were plump and tasty, but the artichoke was drowned by a lemon-flavour so that I couldn’t taste it at all.

On the other side of the table was a colourful chicken salad with radicchio and sherry currant dressing. The chicken was flavoursome brown meat (a plus point for that) but the dressing was “probably not to everybody’s tastes”, admitted my friend. She liked it. It didn’t work for me, the sweetness overpowered the bitterness of the leaves and spoiled their whole point.

Desserts were also disappointing. A posset was served in one of those air-tight containers you keep your sugar in, and strawberries and redcurrants had been plonked on top. My gooseberry cobbler was also rather disappointing, the gooseberries a little unsweetened even for my unsweet tooth and the pastry was too cardboardy.

The place has just opened and the food can be fixed. I just wonder who is going to come. It’s only open during the day, and the crowd was a mix of tourists, lunching ladies and the odd table of suits. “Maybe you’d bring a fun contact,” suggested my friend. I tend to think that, at a reasonable £16 for two courses and £20 for three, it’s more of a place for lunch with colleagues who you don’t need to impress.

In a nutshell:
Firstly, it’s underground, and secondly, the Modern British food needs a little work. That said, it’s a good place to go with colleagues, but not quite the thing for a business lunch.