Published on BespokeRSVP on 7th February 2012
Walking out of Moorgate tube station, a chilling wind strikes my skin. I tighten my scarf around my neck and follow the map on my phone, past glamorous high-rise buildings, expensive gyms and the usual chain cafes. I arrive at my destination and outside, a slightly inebriated middle aged woman with red wine stained teeth touches my hair and asks if it is real before telling me how utterly gorgeous it is. I recoil before thanking and gently pushing past her to open the door to enter the bustling bar section of the restaurant. Inside I am greeted with welcome warmth and raucous laughter of City workers brandishing, no doubt expensive, bottles of wine. I find my dining companion, Qin, and we are seated at our table at the entrance of the restaurant section, which is situated just past the bustling bar area. The waitress apologises for the noise but I think it adds to the atmosphere.
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms reminds me of somewhere I have been before but I can’t quite put my finger on where. I know for sure that this somewhere is outside of London, perhaps one of the extortionate restaurants in my hometown – you know, the kind that resides in cities outside of London, probably serving similar dishes but for more money. You see, these kinds of restaurants can charge extortionate prices because there is no competition. That’s why I love London – so much choice and excellent food that’s value for money.
The menu at Chiswell Street Dining Rooms has something for everyone. I was tempted by a few of the vegetarian options such as the goats cheese panna cotta and wild mushroom starter and the spinach open ravioli for main, but I couldn’t resist ordering the venison carpaccio, wild boar croquettes, cider and shallot dressing to start and grilled fillet of Cornish brill, buttered spring cabbage, shrimp and chive butter sauce for main. Qin chose the sautéed chicken livers and veal sweetbreads, toasted brioche, Madeira jus to start and roast Yorkshire wood pigeon, creamed sprouts and smoked bacon, chestnut cream, parsnip crisps for main. We also enjoyed a bottle of the Cuvée Frères Martin to accompany our meaty dishes. The first impressive aspect of the meal was in fact the wine. Our bottle was the house red and was self select, which to us signalled that care and effort has been put into even their most basic wines.
The starters arrived and presentation was impressive. My deep red venison looked enticing and each morsel melted as soon as it hit my tongue. Despite the wonderful texture, I found it hard to detect a meaty flavour due to the fact that it was impossibly thin. Surprisingly, because I don’t usually enjoy croquettes a great deal, the wild boar croquettes were the star of the show. A deep meaty flavour shone through the crispy battered exterior and I enjoyed mouthful after mouthful with a smattering of the delicious cider shallot dressing accompaniment. Qin’s sweetbreads looked slightly less appetising but I am assured that the flavours were well balanced, although the dish would have benefited from an extra slice of brioche.
Our mains arrived along with a side of chips, which were billed on the menu as ‘lovers chips’. I so badly wanted the chips to have some kind of wow factor. Alas no, they are called lovers chips simply because, according to our waitress, it is the ‘brand’ of potato. And after this initial disappointment, more was to follow upon tasting – hot but completely underwhelming, hardly crispy on the outside and definitely not fluffy on the inside. I guess we won’t be falling in love with these.
Although my brill dish didn’t leave an impression that will last a lifetime, I enjoyed it very much. The sauce was rich and buttery with a hint of chive, the fish tender and well cooked, the bed of cabbage buttery and a perfect addition. I looked across at Qin’s plate and saw her struggling to slice her generous portion of wood pigeon. Despite looking deliciously pink and well cooked, it was rather tough and needed the aid of a good steak knife.
When the dessert menu arrived, one particular dish stood out for both of us – banoffee pie with caramel ice cream and banana crisp, but of course we couldn’t have the same dish so I chose one of the coupes – the chocolate sundae. I took the waitresses recommendation to substitute the chocolate ice cream for vanilla for fear that it might be too rich otherwise. The banoffee pie looked very different to my homemade attempts but was a thing of beauty, particularly the long, thin banana chip. I didn’t think I would be able to manage the whole sundae but it became apparent that I would as soon as I dug my spoon in, past the large layer of chantilly cream, right down to the bottom where I found bite sized chunks of fudgey brownie. I was in heaven and felt like a little kid as I licked my lips after my last hurried mouthful.
After our dessert plates were cleared away, we were offered coffee and allowed to relax, which pleased me as waiting staff at other London restaurants have been known to rush us out of the door in the past. As we stood up and vacated our table at 11pm, I noticed that the dining room was still bustling, fellow diners polishing off the remnants of dessert and sipping the last of their wine. I left full and satisfied with a smile on my face, even if I did have the icy wind to contend with on the walk back to the tube station.
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms
56 Chiswell Street