Old school cool in the heart of Soho

Timothy Barber
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Dean Street Townhouse
69-71 Dean Street, W1D 3SE
Tel: 020 7434 1775

Cost per person without wine: £33

EVERY really good restaurant shares one essential ingredient – a sense of effortlessness. A place that falls over itself to dazzle with complicated flourishes and fuss is more likely to irritate – simplicity, in restaurants, is a virtue. And it doesn’t get much simpler than mince and boiled potatoes, one of the star dishes at Soho’s new place to be, Dean Street Townhouse. Whatever a restaurant’s intentions regarding retro English food, it takes confidence to bung that on a menu, and confidence of the most effortless kind is something this place oozes.

Alas, I can’t report on the quality of the dish since last week’s snow fun meant I had to change my booking to Sunday lunch, but I can only imagine it’s terrific – the place is an absolute pleasure.

Occupying a grand Georgian building halfway along Dean Street, the Townhouse is also a smart little hotel, the dining room having its own entrance. It’s been saved from its former life as a Pitcher & Piano by the Soho House Group and London’s restaurateur par excellence, Richard Caring. The theme is old-fashioned English dining room, with darkwood floors, banquettes of lush red leather, crisp white tablecloths and waiters in black dickie-bows and waistcoats. It may hark back to a clubby London of the past, but it isn’t in the least bit austere – it’s the very opposite of the florid Victoriana of somewhere like Rules, for instance, and gains some contemporary zip from the various YBA artworks that dot the walls (well this is Soho).

From the menu you’d think the haute cuisine revolution had never happened. As well as mince and spuds, there’s fish and chips with marrow fat peas, chicken, bacon and leek pie, and a mixed grill. If that sounds like the offerings of a Berni Inn circa 1975, there are more refined dishes – three kinds of oysters, pan fried ray, red legged partridge with braised lentils – but the point is the quality of the cooking rather than the fanciness of the menu.

I started with a plump smoked haddock soufflé, served with a creamy herb sauce, and it was fabulous – soft and luxurious, with flavours you could swim in. A sturdy chunk of potted ham with some delicious, homemade piccalilli was also a winner.

For mains, a roasted beef rib was tremendously juicy and satisfying, with crisp roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese. I went for Dover sole, which you can have grilled or meuniere – I chose the latter and it was cooked impeccably, pan fried in flour to soft, golden perfection with a sweet, luscious brown butter sauce.

Take my advice – save room for pudding. As you’d expect, there’s a range of retro favourites, like queen of puddings, bramley apple pie, and pear and rhubarb cobbler. The steamed ginger sponge for two, drenched in viscous treacle and custard, was a thing of unadorned magnificence. I want the recipe.

This is much more than an exercise in nostalgia. In amongst Soho’s “cutting edge” fashion consciousness, it’s a place with a sense of calm authority and conviction. A lack of fuss does not mean a lack of attention to detail – quite the opposite in fact. From the high-quality silver tableware to the fact that each piece of toast accompanying the potted ham was individually swaddled in a napkin to maintain warmth, there were plenty of small touches to add to the experience. But it’s the overall assurance of the place that impresses – as I said, effortless.

We expected top quality from Richard Caring – the owner of Le Caprice and The Ivy – and we got it. Dean Street Townhouse is a fine restaurant delivering simple, old-fashioned food in smart but inviting surroundings, and it does so with complete assurance.