The Quality Chop House EC1

One can’t really write about The Quality Chop House without talking about its history. One look at the place and you wonder whether this could possibly be the real thing, so I dig around and find that it has been a restaurant since 1869.

As a property lawyer by profession and an historian by education I can’t quite leave it there, though, so combining the two disciplines, I find myself down the rabbit hole that is the English Heritage website, the bit that tells you why properties are listed. The Quality Chop House (or shall we say The QCH) has rather a detailed listing:

“EXTERIOR: Terraced house, with restaurant. 1890s by Roland Plumber; restaurant early 1900s with (possibly) slightly later facade. …..Twelve square lights to each side with central three-light strips, those to left reading: ‘Quick Service’ ‘London’s noted cup of Tea’, ‘civility’; those to right reading: ‘snacks’, ‘Progressive Working Class Caterers’, ‘Best Quality’. Painted wooden sign over.

“INTERIOR: of restaurant: nine bays of oak benches and oak tables bolted to floor and wall, in two lines with central passage. …Benches and tables have ornate cast-iron legs. Linenfold timber panelling with shelf brackets to walls, ceiling and frieze of ‘steleorite’ decorative tin panels, central pendant gas heater. Dog-leg staircase in corner with end scrolls and turned balusters. Kitchen to rear reached via central door through oak screen with composite pilasters and sliding glazed hatch. Probably unique example of early C20 working class restaurant, surviving complete with all fittings of high quality.”

Ah, those benches. Lovely to look at but a pain in the arse. Literally. My posterior remembers them from my previous regular visits, over twenty years ago.

I have a long history with The Quality Chophouse and used to eat here regularly in the mid 1990s, often post-theatre, when their fishcakes were a thing of beauty. I moved, it changed, I stopped going there.

The QCH has been all over the food press for a couple of years now, since being taken over by (amongst others) Will Lander, son of Nick and Jancis Robinson and with that sort of food and wine heritage it was unlikely that Mr Lander junior was going to produce something uninteresting. I thought it might be time to pay it another visit.

Nothing has changed in 20 years. Actually nothing has changed in over a hundred years. The straightforward, robust food matches the decor and is resolutely British. It’s no coincidence that they use the words “nose to tail” on their website; this is very St John-esque in feel. They offer a simple, seasonal menu, changing three times a day, according to the website, and have great set menu specials.

It’s fairly empty when we get there at 1:15pm on a Sunday and fortunately I had noted on the website that you can choose to sit in the wine bar if you don’t want to share or prefer not to suffer numb bum. The menu is short and sweet because on Sunday it is mainly about the roast.

Before the main event, however, I decide on that least adventurous of dishes, beetroot and goat’s curd. I’d never realised how ubiquitous it was until it was pointed out to me, but I’m still ordering it. The version here is exemplary. Lightly pickled chunks of pale and deep purple beetroot, vibrantly fresh curd, chilled dressed leek rounds and tarragon. It is saved from the ordinary by the toasted sunflower seeds scattered over it, which add texture and an unexpected amount of flavour. I manage to mop up the goat’s curd dregs with the (complimentary) excellent sourdough and deep yellow homemade butter.

I very much like that I can get a vegetarian roast, as my favourite part of the trad Sunday meal is the trimmings. It is all spot on, from the crisp potatoes to the large light Yorkshire pudding, the carrots and the King Henry’s cabbage. The vegetarian gravy has a depth which makes me question its credentials, it’s so deep dark and rich. Slabs of celeriac stand in for the meat, braised. I do not feel the absence of animal protein and please let me divert you for moment  to the beauty of the braised celeriac, especially for those of you who are interested in low carbohydrate cheats. This particular joy was revealed to me by the very talented Edward Schneider. Cooks: google Schneider, celeriac and Huffington Post if you’re in need. It’s worth the faff.

C is not quite as enamoured of his traditional version, served with beef; two cuts, a braised neck and a roasted silverside. For £22, though, I think it’s good value and not for the first time, our views diverge.

Because I really need, there is ordered a dessert of a crisp meringue on a bed of whipped cream with a piping of chestnut. A triumph of description over reality. The advertised buttermilk (the waste product from the home-churned butter) is without discernible flavour and the Mast chocolate (think New York hipster) is grated so finely over the dish it is almost impossible to taste against the chestnut. The buttermilk. A case of waste not, want more. Not everything needs to be recycled.

Special mention must go to the excellent and fascinating wine list, beautifully written and containing much of interest, including a 1973 Rioja (£79) in their “old but fresh” section, a title which I feel could have wider application. It is worth sitting in that wine bar and working through. They have that special Coravin wine preservation system so that a number of fine wines can be offered by the glass, which is rather attractive to the less is more drinkers amongst us. On Monday they only charge £15 corkage, unless you buy from their adjacent shop, in which case they won’t charge you.

Verdict: The Quality Chop House is a charming and interesting neighbourhood restaurant, where the staff try hard to please and the food is modern but not scarily so, using only the freshest ingredients. There are some fashionable dishes (hello Brown Sugar Tart) but lots of comfort cooking too. Ten minutes in a cab from Bank. What are you waiting for?

Scores on the doors:

Food: 7/10

Ambience: 8/10

Value for money: 8/10

Best for: Straightforward cooking by people some of whom have beards

Worst for: Lounging about on benches