Dean Street classic is reborn again under Jeremy Lee

RESTAURANT QUO VADIS
26-29 Dean Street, W1D 3LL

FOOD ****
SERVICE ****
ATMOSPHERE ****

Cost per person without wine: £20-40

DEAN Street has a lot on its plate, so to speak, what with the hyped-up Dean St Townhouse, Polpetto and Duck Soup all within spitting distance. In the midst of all these staunchly squats Quo Vadis, a restaurant, bar and private club with a colourful history – including ownership by Marco Pierre White and Damian Hirst. Originally opened in 1926 by an Italian called Pepino Leoni, it’s now owned by tapas gurus Sam and Eddie Hart (of Barrafina and Fino fame) – and has been on firm fine dining footing ever since 2008.

Once again, it’s all change at Quo Vadis: Jeremy Lee, formerly of the Blueprint Café, has been brought in to redo the menu. Formerly a bit more fussy and grand, the new Quo Vadis experience is a paired down, mercilessly fresh daily menu where much costs in the region of £6.

It’s delightful – atmosphere, food, service, wine. You’re just as likely to see an A-list celebrity as a family out for an evening of theatre or a couple celebrating their silver wedding.

The menu is grouped according to small bites, starters, mains, grill, pie and “braise” of the day. There’s also a theatre set menu from which I borrowed a garlic and asparagus soup.

Although the English seasonal menu has been hot on the food scene for years now, this one is refreshingly quirky. Bloater paste, for example, sounds like something that would be served in a draconian boarding school of the 1930s. Actually, it is potted cured herring with a thick lard cap, served with brioche. It was a bit greasy for me, though a nice idea. The star of the sub-starters was the eel and horseradish sandwich: thick squares of smokey eel with sauce and shredded pink pickled onions. Piquant and meaty, softened by buttered toasted sourdough, it is worth going back for (though too small for a whole meal).

The soup was very nice: too much asparagus and not enough garlic, but there was no doubting its genuine green-ness, its nearness to the garden. Indeed, now that those vegetables are entering their seasonal prime, they’re cropping up all over the menu.

Moving on, my friend had Tymsboro goat’s cheese with broad beans and mint: again, an honest paste of cheese and greenery that lacked refinement but meant very well. She then had a wonderful cod with olive oil mashed potatoes, while I had loin of lop (a loppy-eared pig), with lovely piquant anchovy sauce and charcoaly asparagus. God it was good: two juicy slabs that lay somewhere between the best bacon, the best ham and the best chop.

The wine was the surprise star of the evening. We put ourselves in the hands of the sommelier Jack Lewens, who has both a light touch and formidable knowledge. His choices were spot on: the first glasses were a Riesling for me and a bone-dry Catalonian Calcari for my friend – weirdly, he’d got the two wildly different styles right according to our different tastes, without having even asked directly which we’d prefer. All I can say is that if you like a subtly oaked Burgundy, then you must have the Pinot Blanc by Josmeyer from Alsace (2010).

For mains we were served a delicious 2010 Garnatxa Blanca/Macabeo blend by Bodega Acústic from Monsant, Catalonia – from a magnum. Dessert drew forth a nectar-like 2009 Gewürztraminer by Domaine Bott Geyl.

You’ll have a lovely evening at Quo Vadis, whether you’re dashing to the theatre or in it for the long haul.