Quo Vadis has gone back to basics, showcasing Jeremy Lee's delicate, yet uncomplicated, style and the power of his produce. James Stagg reports
If there's one thing that strikes you at Quo Vadis, it's the simplicity. The Soho restaurant has existed under many guises, but none of them could be considered understated.
Now with Jeremy Lee at the stove and Sam and Eddie Hart, owners of Barrafina and Fino, at the helm, the restaurant and club has been taken back to basics. The Hart brothers took over Quo Vadis four years ago, but recruited Lee at the end of last year, prising him away from the Blueprint Café at the Design Museum where he spent the past 16 years.
Lee has brought with him the relaxed and unfussy cooking style that won him such plaudits at the Blueprint Café. "It was hard to give up the wall of glass that offered such a fantastic view of the Thames," Lee explains. "But this is an enormous challenge and a fabulous job with everything you could possibly want: a bakery, bar, restaurant, two private rooms and a drinking club."
This simple, yet elegant, style has been echoed in the refurbishment of the restaurant, which retains its characteristic stained glass windows, but elsewhere is more understated with dark leather-covered furniture, light walls and an exposed tiled floor.
Some exuberance is permitted, however, on the menu, which features illustrations from John Broadley to accompany the dishes. "He used my thoughts and just ran with them," Lee says. "It has been an unbelievably decadent and indulgent time for us."
The menu itself changes daily. Though there are regular features which will remain and give the 12-strong brigade a chance to find its feet. "We'd rather do a few things well than a lot of fiddly stuff we might flounder with," Lee adds. "It's early days and we're taking a more modest approach, rather than trying to change everything every day."
The approach may be modest - reflected in the plain-speaking menu - but by delicately treating produce sourced from many of his original suppliers, Lee's food delights without being showy.
A "theatre set" menu is offered all day priced at £17.50 for two courses and £20 for three, offering real value. Diners may choose from dishes including beetroot and egg salad, marinated chicken with mint courgette and onion and chocolate brownie, fudge sauce and cream.
Elsewhere, the varied menu includes bites, featuring smoked cod roe (£3.50) and potted pork (£4), a pie of the day (pheasant and duck for £14 when Caterer and Hotelkeeper visited) and a choice from the grills of onglet (£16.50), leg of mutton (£18.50) and rib of beef for two (£45).
Among the starters are dishes such as hare soup (£5.50), herring and potato salad and squid, fennel and puntarella (£6.50). Thinly sliced fennel is accompanied by squid cooked on the plancha and dressed in a new season's oil with a scattering of the chicory. "I use our favourite new toy, the plancha," Lee says. "It's been great playing with it and figuring out the million and one ways you can cook squid on it."
Main courses include ox liver, onions and sage (£14), skate, capers and black butter (£17) and middlewhite, beans and green sauce (£18). Lee likes to serve the pork fairly rare to give the diner the full succulent and sweet impact of the rare breed's flavour with what he describes as "a very large blush on the bone. I've never understood well-cooked pork and knackered grey meat", he says.
Dessert favourites include almond tart, caramelised pears and vanilla ice-cream (£5.50) and lemon posset and rhubarb (£5.50). Like the other dishes on the menu, they showcase Lee's delicate, yet uncomplicated, style and the power of his produce.
Sample dishes from the menu
Pork terrine, pickles and toast £6
Salt mallard and pickled prunes £6.50
Crab soup, rouille and croutons £5.50
Whole grilled mackerel and cucumber £14.50
Middlewhite, beans and green sauce £18
Sea bass and oyster sauce £18.50
Walnut meringue, quince, pear with vanilla ice-cream £5.50
Almond tart, caramelised pears and vanilla ice-cream £5.50
Coffee ice-cream, chocolate sauce and biscuits £5.50
26-29 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 3LL
Tel: 020 7437 9585