Review: The Quality Chop House, Farringdon EC1
March 7, 2016
Victorian working men’s dining room since 1869, now shovelling out imperiously brilliant meals to modern-day navvies who’ve had a hard day at the Powerpoint coalface
Now a restaurant, a wine bar, a butchers and a food shop, the Quality Chop House opened in 1869, the same year that John Sainsbury and his wife opened a greengrocer in Drury Lane, 1.5 miles away, selling ‘the best butter in London’. Sainsbury’s still sells slightly salted Lurpak, but I’d put in a word for The Quality Chop House, with its butter made of Jersey milk, raw and unpasteurised, and churned in the English fashion into something bright yellow, crumbly and almost cheesy. It’s a good sign when the freebie you eat (on the superlative sourdough, although that could be considered optional if you’re a butter addict like me) while perusing the menu is this delectable.
Inside, the Chop House has kept the Victorian checkerboard floor, a taste for beef dripping, and the original wooden, rigid-backed booths, with one concession to our modern, frankly un-Victorian desire for comfort – a kind of half-cushion under your thighs, as if someone’s chopped up a prayer cushion and laid it along the outer edge of your pew. So you’re constantly aware of the position of your backside and may require a carafe of Cotes du Rhone just to sit still for half an hour. Kim Kardashian would have a nightmare here: Kanye would kick off, and the meal would be a disaster. However, the bar next door has more comfortable seating.
There’s textured, curlicued wallpaper, ornate cornicing, fresh flowers and light pouring in from the galleon windows at the front when we get there for lunch, although I imagine it would seem even more cloistered and welcoming on a freezing Victorian-style foggy night. The staff are young and friendly, but I warmed to them despite that, especially as they shamed my eating companion, who was suffering from a hangover, into having a hair of the dog. Such was their charm, she ended up licking the pet parlour’s floor clean.
It was lunchtime, it was payday, I wanted to enjoy myself. Three courses – oh, but you do pre-starters? Let’s make it four. At £2.50 it would be shameful not to order breaded brawn on burnt apple puree. Pigs give good head, as David Cameron might agree, and here are four dice of unctuous, shredded pig face, just the right size for a Yahtzee tumbler, rolled out over a dark brown, acid, scrumptious sauce. A perfect appetizer. Across the table, on artfully mismatched crockery, grilled sourdough with salty, soothing cod roe sprinkled with orange zest, reminded me never to stand for that bright pink pretender tubbed taramasalata ever again.
I love mackerel, but I was sceptical about my starter of day-boat mackerel with buttermilk, buckwheat, radish and cucumber. These aren’t ingredients to make the heart sing and the liver lick its lips. But this turned out to be the surprise of the day. A perfectly poached and iridescent fillet of fish and an oblong of cooked cucumber, decorated with crunchy buckwheat and delicately pared radishes, swam in a pool of creamy buttermilk and yellow olive oil. Soothing milk, briny, oily fish and the crunch of buckwheat at the end. Pretty as a picture too – but better to eat.
The menu was a better read than PG Wodehouse – I could have eaten everything off it – but it had to be a chop. When in Rome and all that. A great muscular bone-in hunk of pork, ribboned with crunchy-edged fat and brown with butter, served simply with a heap of mustardy greens, certainly hit the Gloucester Old Spot.
My companion, suffering from one of her occasional spasms of healthy eating, went for the vegetarian option. But a buttery rich tart with salsify, pickled walnut and Périgord truffle and a deep orange egg yolk in the centre is hardly a culinary hair shirt, as this picture proves.
Just to be a pig, I ordered confit potatoes. The size of Jenga pieces, they looked like massive, geometric chips, drizzled with mustard, but without the fluffiness inside. Although beautifully soft by being baked in dripping made in-house, the interior retains a bit of solidity and texture of the spud that means you can’t wolf them down like a bag of chips. Intensely rich and worth the entrance price alone.
Listening to the comments of other diners, it is clear that the Chop House does a great deal of repeat business. And no wonder, I was already planning my return halfway through the starters. The Galloway mince on dripping toast seems to be a favourite. One regular diner, although admitting his Fosse Meadows chicken with celeriac and truffle was excellent, mournfully regretted that he hadn’t had the mince as well. “You can’t have it every time you come here,” the waitress chided him gently. But he obviously wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
Determined not to miss out ourselves, we ordered three puddings. There was something in the style of cooking, a finesse coupled with simple generosity, that convinced me the puddings were going to be pretty damn good. First up, a rhubarb trifle. Is there any sound more erotic than the slurp and glug as a big dense spoonful of custard and sponge is prised from a massive trifle bowl? Or is that just me? So I suppose I’m always disappointed that trifles these days come fridge-set in individual glasses. It’s more sensible and obviously more attractive to diners than sharing some great big glass bowl of sugary sludge with strangers, but however good this dessert was, I believe trifle belongs firmly in the home.
Next, an olive oil tart with crisp but dense pastry and a bright green pistachio filling, capped with a scoop of razor sharp blood orange ice cream. Superbly made, not too sweet and a real grown-up pudding.
Finally, a warm chocolate mousse, strewn with a rubble of salted caramel and gingerbread, wobbling provocatively on its plate as it was set down in front of me. My eating partner pronounced it the best chocolate mousse she’d ever had. I used the opportunity created by her speaking to eat more of it, and earned myself enmity for the rest of the afternoon. Worth crossing (and re-crossing) the river for.
The Quality Chop House, 88-94 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3EA
Tel: 020 7278 1452