1776 is old-fashioned City and it’s all the better for it
1 Lombard Street, EC3V 9AA Tel: 020 7929 6611
Cost per person without wine: £55
ONE LOMBARD Street is one of those archetypal City restaurants – like the Mercer – that you go because you work in the City and, you know, that’s just what you do. It is expected. It is proper (it is no coincidence it was started by a former banker, Soren Jessen, in 1998). It could probably start selling defrosted Iceland burgers and people would still eat there out of habit.
Now it has “opened” 1776, a little 40-cover dining room at the back of the building. Calling 1776 a restaurant in its own right would be a little disingenuous. I have eaten in what is now 1776 when it was still just “the room at the back of 1 Lombard Street”, the haute cuisine section of the main brasserie. I was there for lunch and it was, unsurprisingly for a restaurant located by the steps of Bank underground, populated entirely by be-suited City types.
It was a welcome refuge from the main brasserie, which sits under a gigantic dome that amplifies even a dull chatter to the volume of a medium-sized football stadium. The food in the dining room was as you’d expect of a City eatery – well sourced, meat-heavy produce that is guaranteed to leave you too full to do very much work all afternoon, especially when you factor in the obligatory bottle of red.
Now it has had a lick of paint – a pleasant kind of woody green – and a refurb that brings to mind a West End members’ club, complete with chandeliers and abstract paintings. It has also, apparently, got its own entrance on Mansion House Place, although after two laps of the block I gave up and went in through the main door to the brasserie.
I took an old school friend who lives out of town. In retrospect, 1776 isn’t ideal for this. It is perfect for a business meal. It is great for a date – it is flashy and expensive in almost equal measure. But it isn’t really what you’re looking for when you’re trying to impress an old friend. You want that hidden away little gem that makes everybody jealous you live in London. Going somewhere like 1776 looks like you’re trying a bit too hard. The waiter wheeling over a gigantic polished silver bowl easily big enough to encase a human head, containing the day’s meat carvery, didn’t help.
But 1776 isn’t stuffy – the service is remarkably, and commendably, relaxed. The waiter insisted I try the fallow deer tartare to start, which is mixed at your table. I’m glad he did. The recipe, which includes Worcestershire sauce, capers and a splash of tabasco, was delicious – and the deer gives a much deeper, richer flavour than steak tartare. I went for the roasted côte de veau for the main, which pleased the waiter no end (“I always go for the meat – I’m a lion”). There is no doubting the quality of the cut – tender and succulent, although the accompanying pancetta, braised chicory and potato nest was rather predictable, if no less tasty.
The school friend went for the mint crusted fillet of lamb. It didn’t seem the done thing to start eating from the plate of someone you haven’t seen for a couple of years but his verdict was unequivocally positive.
It’s not cheap – factor in a decent bottle of wine and you’re not getting much change out of £200 for two people. But this is a City restaurant. It has a giant silver bowl. If you’re worrying about the bill, you’re probably in the wrong place.