Grilled octopusHead chef Calum Franklin (ex-The Ivy) operates a traditional British style menu here – lashings of rabbit, bacon, lamb and pork – which reflects the classical interior of the Edwardian building, previously the East Banking Hall of Pearl Assurance (quite a mouthful itself). Ever on a search for the perfect grilled tentacle, we began our meal with a hefty specimen that, while not quite as soft as butter, was packed with charred flavour and paired well with slices of English chorizo and garlicky pools of aioli.
Crab toastAs 8pm arrived, and the room filled up, the light slinky and crepuscular, it wasn’t hard to feel quite at home amongst the chandeliers, antique mirrors and opulent red leather upholstery, more intimate than such a big dining room should be. Service was efficient too, the plates arriving speedily. Next up was delicate white crab meat from Cornwall, perching on a creamy, textural mash of avocado dabbed with spicy bloody mary jelly. This small plate slipped down, glass of easygoing Verdejo in hand, sourdough lending its lightly chewy weight.
HakeFor fishy mains you could plump for an old-school cod grenobloise (a sauce of browned butter, capers, parsley, and pieces of lemon) or a simple grilled dover sole. There’s also a shrimp burger that’s starred in a thousand Instagram posts, as well as sustainable options like pollock. Our choice of hake proved a robust fillet cooked just opaque (a moment longer and its flesh would have crumbled rather than flaked), the moistness factor upped by a whorl of briny seaweed mayo, florets of tender sprouting broccoli scattered about. We probably shouldn’t have ordered a side of truffle fries – but sod it, they went surprisingly well.
Curried Mutton pieThis was the masterpiece: Franklin is known for artful creations including pithiviers and a quintessentially British sausage roll. His new selection of pies are modern takes on that traditional dish. Current smash is a lamb curry number consisting of slow-cooked shoulder, potato and traditional spices. And yes, it’s a beauty to look at, a castellated, almost medieval affair, perched on bright chunks of mango chutney, all deep meatiness and tangy sauce. A side of cabbage with thyme and bacon added further earthy, fragrant, smoky notes, while a light New Zealand pinot noir kept the feel of spring rather than winter.
Chocolate fondant“Slightly strange checked trousers that the waiting staff all wear,” mused my dinner date as we watched them buzz around, while we perused the desserts list, at first glance almost too clichéd a definition of English: sticky toffee pudding, treacle tart, rhubarb crumble. But they too are pleasingly contemporary takes: an airy lemon tart matched in heaven with a tokaji dessert wine, while flourless (is it really healthier?) chocolate fondant exploded with the slight press of a fork, a pleasing acidity offered by slices of blood orange and zesty orange ice cream.
Starters £8+, mains £16+. A good-value set menu of two courses is £20 pre-6.30pm and after 9.30pm. More info. 252 High Holborn WC1V.