Jeremy Lee's new position as head chef at the newly refurbished Quo Vadis has been all the talk recently. Previously at Blueprint Cafe, he moved just after Christmas. Reports came in with rapt admiration of his simple, pared down cooking in plusher surroundings.
I received an invitation to dinner there with Wine Chap and others to celebrate the new chef appointment, an offer you'd be mad to refuse. I've only been to Quo Vadis in casual circumstances - a drink in the bar, or a plate of oysters before moving on - so I don't really have any point of comparison. They make a mean martini though, and snacks of salsify baked and sprinkled with a strong, sharp cheese (£3.50) reinforced my thoughts that salsify is a vehicle, not much of a flavour in its own right but a great texture nonetheless for delivering delicious cheese into my face.
Most talked about on the new menu is the smoked eel and horseradish sandwich (£6.50). Plump juicy rounds of dense meat is served in between toasted slices of bread, spread liberally with creamy horseradish.
Vibrantly pink pickled onions had just the right sharpness to counteract the delicately smoked, richly flavoured flesh. The horseradish packed such a nose-clearing punch that I got a momentary mustard head - you know, when your sinuses burn and sting and you're rendered speechless. It's quite addictive, that. Anyway, it was an absolutely smashing sandwich. I was only sad that I had to share it.
Bloater paste (£4) was rather too strongly flavoured for me, but I absolutely loved the smooth anchovy paste, more like a mayonnaise and served with a sweet brioche bun for dunking.
Salted mallard (£6) salad was really gamey. I'm not usually a fan of game and my nose wrinkled, but when paired with the peppery watercress and the prune compote it was far mellower with the sweetness of the fruit balancing out the strong flavour.
The pescetarian on the table got a dish that made us all laugh at its sparsity. What we originally thought was celery turned out to be sea kale (£8.50), cooked to just tender and bathed in a gloriously lemon-yellow butter sauce. It may not look like much but the delicate flavours were perfectly balanced, the sauce decadent.
The main event arrived to gasps around the table. A roasted shoulder of kid was large and resplendent. Meat was pulled off the bones and dished onto plates along with creamy tender white beans in a green herby sauce. The meat was tender and not dissimilar in flavour to lamb. Courgettes were roasted with whole onions, their moisture releasing and creating its' own juice. These were no fancy plates, but decent, hearty stuff of which Lee is well known for. He came out to our table to greet us and others in the room, oozing enthusiasm and charm that was already evident from his twitter stream.
A cheese course arrived but I was too stuffed to attack it with much fervour, and just a nibble of Stichelton on an oatcake did me. Desserts were numerous and plenty, ranging from rhubarb compote to a fudgy chocolate cake. Pick of the bunch was this fruity number. I'm afraid that even the day after I've forgotten what it is. Rather than a reflection on the dish, I suspect the cocktails must've caught up with me.
We hauled ourselves back up to the bar and smashed back a few more martinis. I called it a night after we'd sang a rousing number of Hey Jude while one of our party tinkled it on the resident piano; it was home time.
I left Quo Vadis feeling like I'd had a big hug. The food was a mixture of eye popping (that eel sandwich) and comforting (those herby beans). We did a fair bit of gawping too, at not only Ralph Fiennes dining there but also Fergus Henderson. At prices that are completely reasonable, not something I'd previously associate Quo Vadis with, I will be back there soon.
26 - 29 Dean Street
London W1D 3LL
Tel: 020 7437 9585