85 FLEET STREET, EC4Y 1AE
TEL: 020 7583 8385
Cost per person without wine: £40
FROM its name you’d think it was English – Edward Lutyens was a brilliant Victorian architect known chiefly for his country houses. Indeed, Lutyens the restaurant, in the old Reuters building, is an elegant construction, a sleek refuge inside a typically grey but lovely Fleet Street office. Inside, of course, it’s pure Conran stylishness. There are several glossy bars for snacks and shellfish and, in the outer room of the restaurant, a little counter where an aproned man presides over hanging hams. Padding over the marble behind the jovial maitre d’ into the main dining room, you pass several minimalist cheese trolleys. Who knew cheese trolleys could be hip?
Yet despite the name, this is not an English restaurant. Following swiftly on from his lauded, super stylish restaurant Boundary in Shoreditch, Terence Conran has unveiled another highly successful take on French food. Once again (Boundary does this to a tee), the best of modern British creativity has been transposed onto a generous French canvas. The result is neither die-hard Gallic bistro – all saucisson, bouillabaisse and escargot – nor posh Gordon Ramsay-style modern European, but something very chic, very fun and very accomplished.
It’s also a business person’s dream lunch spot. We were in and out in an hour and a half, having had a proper three-course meal with a glass of wine. Service was super-smooth, very friendly, though possibly a bit crowded – we spotted four different staff uniforms.
The menu is decadent with lots of choice that you can go at from a variety of angles. For example, you could go all out on seafood; crustacea is a big part of the menu’s first page. Should you dismiss the platters of clams, towers of langoustines, pints of prawns, plates of oysters and the “plateau de fruits de mer” you can proceed to the first course list, which ranges from the classic (steak tartare; vichyssoise) to the niche and technically wondrous (crepe parmentier with caviar and smoked salmon; Coquille Saint Jacques Parisienne; feuillete of quail eggs). We went for both ends of the spectrum; my companion went for the classic soupe de poisson, which was aromatic with aniseed and not too rich, served with perfect little fried bruschetti and a manageable plop of garlicky rouille sauce. I went high-end with lobster mousse, a blancmange shaped mound of faintly lobstery souffle, and bits of lobster dotted about, all in a lovely savoury sauce to be mopped up with a lone crescent-shaped bit of pastry. It was a rather weird dish, and not quite the sort of thing one would salivate over having again.
Mains were superb. As at Boundary, there is a daily rotisserie section as well as mains, and a plat du jour, which was lamb stew on our visit. I plumped for the roast chicken Landaise from the rotisserie, which came served in a copper saucepan, with wonderfully fatty, fresh-baked crisps and separate little flagons of sage and onion stuffing and gravy. A child would have enjoyed mixing and matching the bits and pieces – I found it great fun, as well as delicious (the chicken was unusually juicy for its breed).
The lamb stew was beautiful; bits of brown, green, orange and white sitting pretty in a rich sauce, but the addition of whole horseradish was a bitter addition, and the lamb was slightly overcooked. Perhaps the best part of this course was the champ; a giant helping of butter and oil into which a clump of spring onion-infused mash had been swirled. It was heavenly but we were floored after a few bites (it being the undisputed champ).
Other tempting options included fresh trout (simple but, if the equally unadorned halibut at Boundary is anything to go on, perfectly formed), beef bourgignon, and skate with shrimps.
Desserts were a mix of deeply French and old-school English. We went for the tarte du jour, which was wheeled out and carved up before us (there is much tableside carving and slicing at Conran’s recent incarnations). It was a dark chocolate and raspberry affair and almost illegally rich. As with much else here, it was an enthralling, charismatic piece of performance.
In a nutshell: Whether you go for the high (lobster mousse) or the low (fish and chips), your dish will be served beautifully and – where possible – with fanfare that recalls the food’s fresh origins. An elegant dining room with smooth service that will add gloss to any business meeting.