Oasis of life on cold Chiswell Street

Chiswell Street Dining Rooms
56 Chiswell Street, EC1Y 4SA
Tel: 020 7614 0177
FOOD ***

Cost per person without wine: £35

CHISWELL Street, off Moorgate, is not likely to be on your post-work route unless you work there or live in the Barbican. For it’s a long, dreary street, sort of empty-feeling, as though everyone has been evacuated under threat of an alien attack.

But Tom and Ed Martin, the clever clogs pubmen (they’re rather smart in the other sense, too) behind the Gun, Sloane Ranger favourites the Botanist and the Cadogan Arms and iconic gastropub The Well (among others), have made it work for them. Rather than being dragged down by its curiously dead environment, the Dining Rooms serves as a beacon of warmth.

It’s got the sort of low ceilings that make a place cosy, and when you walk in, there’s a proper bar that has been designed for the imbibing of several drinks, along with some proper snacks. There is, in other words, plenty of space, nice banquettes and stools and a good cocktail list. The only problem with the bar has to do with the otherwise nice ceilings: noise. A week after I visited for dinner, a friend and I had a couple of drinks in the bar and there was a crowd of colleagues in, their backpacks spread around the floor, bottles of beer and large white wines in their hands. That they communicated exclusively through shrieking, guffawing and plain shouting might have been less of a shame if the sound had not bounced off the wood floors, shot aggressively to the ceiling, then straight back into our ears.

Assuming you have a better choice of co-customers, you should definitely have a cocktail (if you like them) – my companion’s rhubarb martini (called the King’s Robe) was really well-made. I stuck with the house champagne, from the vineyard of one Joseph Perrier (no relation of Laurent, we were told).

Dinner was just right: not just because of the food, which was quite good but not wholly staggering, but because of our position in a nook by the window, the capacious green leather seating, the bottle of amazingly good, icy Canadian Chardonnay (who would have thought?) and the truly delightful waiter, Adel, who energetically saw to our every whim.

The menu is elegant British with the odd European twist: I had scallops – diver caught Isle of Man king scallops – with samphire and lemon thyme to start. They were generous in size, served in two decorative shells, but were cloaked in a puree of something not great. My friend’s potted shrimp was special: really chunky and fresh.

His lemon sole, recommended by a colleague of mine, was alright but a bit too fishy, if you know what I mean, while my risotto with lobster and king prawns and parmesan was so downright delicious, the rice so al dente and the seafood so meaty, that I asked to take it home in a “doggy bag” and enjoyed it for lunch the next day. Heritage tomato salad with onions was also burstingly fresh, the quality of the tomatoes very high.

You could easily come for a dessert feast here as there is a whole selection devoted to coupes. Sticky toffee pudding with peanut ice cream was as good as it sounds, and I wept to leave a blueberry cheesecake with yoghurt behind. My friend thought he’d have that feast and gobbled down a chocolate sundae too: a child’s dream with brownies and Chantilly cream.

A thoroughly enjoyable meal: the risotto and the Canadian wine will stay with me a long time, as will Adel’s jaunty manner. Certainly I’m willing to return to Chiswell Street, alien invasion threats and all, for a slap-up dinner again soon.