I entered the Dean Street Townhouse with excited anticipation. It feels like a first date. No, not with you, The Peanut Gallery, who will order a chardey (only if it's oakey), wrinkle your nose at the nearby try hards and have me guffawing about today's most inane office incident within 30 seconds of sitting down. No, the occassion feels like a first date with Dean ST itself. Because, I have that heady feeling I will fall instantly in love with its old school glamour and charm and be left donning the rose coloured glasses as I try madly to assess the food and service objectively for you my dear readers (Mum, Dad, Martha-the-dog etc. Get your paws off the keyboard, Martha.).
(The morning after...)
I'm greeted at the grand Georgian frontage by the friendly doorman (nice touch - so far, so dangerous), and the preliminaries including the taking of the coat, the showing to the table and the offering of water (no qualms about the tap option) are all handled seamlessly by a super friendly bevvie, including (comfortingly) Velma from Scooby Doo. Velma proves herself to be an absolute champion throughout the evening and I really need to find out where she got those specs.
(Clearly, I am shaky, judging from the snaps)
I swig on a big glass of Syrah to calm my first date nerves. Because it's gorgeous and it's already buzzing by 6.30pm on a Friday night. Soft candlelight flickers throughout the room revealing low tables with plush red seating, brass fittings, artwork scattered along the walls and a long wooden bar, lit by small table lamps. This is old school, classic glam - right down to the Tom Collins I almost ordered and the little Manhattan cocktails with the cherry inside (aww). It's got me. Keep your head, Greedy, keep your head.
As I peruse the menu, I become even more deeply infatuated. I love the simplicity of the stripped down British classics on offer. I already anticipate a long and steamy relationship ahead. I try to act casual, but I'm already playing footsies with the table leg.
After some serious deliberation, I settle on the double baked smoked haddock souffle and the mixed grill (a girl needs her iron). TPG, after his big work lunch, behaves like a twiggy teen model, ordering the chicory, pear, Barkham Blue and almond salad followed by pan fried ray, brown shrimps, capers and parsley. We order some sprouts and sprout tops on the side. For desserts, we go for the warm chocolate cake with choc chip mint ice-cream for me (a child at heart) and, of course, the rice pudding with jam for TPG - no surprise there.
(Souffle - dieter's delight)
My souffle only enhances the infatuation. It's lovely. Rich, light and fishy, I'm on a winner. TPG's chicory salad is ok. The Barkham Blue is divine and the dish as a whole is crisp and fresh (in contrast to my indulgent souffle). However, TPG alarmingly reports a slight chemical aftertaste about the chicory and its dressing.
(TPG's chicory salad)
I have big expectations for the climatic mixed grill. And it partly delivers. The lamb cutlet is tender, the fillet steak juicy, the bacon crisp and the whopping Cumberland sausage was tastier than expected. I loved the bubble 'n squeak which was big and full of hearty chunks. I made the mistake of thinking of might have developed a taste for liver - bah bowww. One tiny bite and it took a whole glass of emergency Syrah to wash away the foul aftermath and calm the taste buds. As far as liver goes, it might have been good, but I am not the person to judge. There was also some kidney which I left for the birds. The accompanying jus was lovely, but I could have done with a bit more of it. All up, a really good dish although I felt it was missing the X factor, which the mixed grill I had at the The Britannia pub (in Victoria Park) earlier in the year (pre-blog days) delivered admirably.
(Ray & sprouts)
TPG's ray was well cooked, but too quickly became a little same-same. Perhaps a greater assortment of sides would have added something. The sprouts were perfect.
The wines were delicious, but the only service failure of the night was the fact that the wines we ordered to accompany our mains came 10 minutes after our food.
My chocolate cake was really a pudding, and was gooey and delicious. The ice-cream was the highlight - superb minty flavour and delicious, big flakes of chocolate were generously folded into the mix.
TPG's rice pudding with raspberry jam was disappointing (especially when compared to the king of rice puds at St John). There was a strong orange flavour throughout which detracted from the comforting, creamy goodness you want from a rice pud. Next time, if I could get consensus with the TPG (we fiercely differ on desserts), I'd go for the steamed ginger sponge with custard or the sherry trifle (both are dishes for 2).
(Rice pudding & jam)
The crowd was not as trendoid as I had feared. The ultra artsy and their Pete Doherty hats mix freely with normals, and much entertainment was had watching 2 foolhardy lads at the bar continually hit on blondes sitting with their boyfriends. What the...? I found the G label on the bathroom door confusing and came face to face with an unexpected urinal (G is for "gentlemen", not "girls" - duh) - however, I can now report that the Ladies room is soooo much nicer than the Gents.
As you could almost guess from first glance at its style and menu, Dean ST is brought to us by Nick Jones (Soho House Group) and Richard Caring (owner of The Ivy, J Sheeky, Le Caprice, Scott's etc). So it has a solid pedigree.
However, my overriding sense as I departed Dean ST some time later was that it has the right formula, and we could have had something great, but somehow it just fell short of sweeping me off my feet. The atmosphere is right, the service is terrific, but the food needs some work to take it to the next level. The beauty of a simple menu only works if each dish is executed perfectly. Dean ST has the potential to be a lower priced alternative to The Ivy. But it needs to lift. Just a little. That said, I certainly liked it and appreciate what it is seeking to accomplish enough to give it a second date. I'd like to try the high tea, including cakes, crumpets with picalilli, and other British bits 'n pieces like sardines on toast and the Scotch Egg (now priced at £5.50, down from £7.50).
Until then, I am left pondering what could have been. In the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, "missed it by that much".
Dean Street Townhouse, 69-71 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1S 3SE