Bog-standard British – Dean Street Townhouse review

November 11, 2010

69-71 Dean Street, London W1D 3SE

Last week I went to the Dean Street Townhouse and I fear I may have tarnished my honour. Those readers who have not given up on this blog due to lax updating on my part may remember that a few months ago at Gautier I was alarmed to find myself being placed at a table next to my former boss and his wife, who is our chief film critic (which makes me technically her editor), who are genuinely delightful but I don’t want to make up a four unexpectedly, this isn’t the 1920s and we’re not playing tennis. I performed a polite hissy fit for our poor waiter and escaped to another floor for a thoroughly enjoyable dinner with SB. SB is tall, handsome, and a good ten years older than me. Last week though, in the Dean Street Townhouse, which is a very different sort of establishment, I met up with the lovely JM, who is short, handsome, and a good ten years older than me. Now as every journalist knows, two is early adoption and three is a rapidly growing trend, so I was mildly distressed to find that once again, we were seated a mere table away from my former boss and our chief film critic, thus unwittingly providing evidence of my own moral turpitude. I fear scandal threatens. One more incident such as this (and I have, I realise with some embarrassment, no shortage of suitable companions to assist my good name’s inevitable descent into squalor) and I’m going to find myself saddled with a reputation. In addition to any other reputation I may already have acquired. I shall be heavy with shame.

They’ll have to catch me first though, which will be tricky since I almost certainly won’t bother going back to the Dean Street Townhouse. Not for the food, at least.

It’s a nice enough room, classically clubby with dark wood, red leather banquettes and booths, candles and low, warm lighting – I particularly liked the pots of rosemary on the bar. The bar staff, indeed all the staff, are charming and helpful, though I object quite strongly to being addressed as ‘boys and girls’ by anyone, least of all a maitre d. The martinis are, as I had been previously advised, very good – I ordered off-menu and they didn’t hesitate – though I feel wistful for an old fashioned martini glass of the 1980s Bond sort, rather than this current fad for little absinthe-style goblets, which might well be very Left Bank but is not terribly West End. You can’t have it both ways.

Mika, the pop singer, and a ‘very successful’ (his own words, overheard) American record producer sat at the next table, which was mildly interesting once I’d finally realised that he was a famous person and not just another of those pouting little fashion boys who hang around smoking on my doorstep in London’s Trendy Dalston of a Friday night.

And you know what, the food was ok. If you went to a British boarding school and were remotely nostalgic about it, then it’s probably even pretty good. I had a steak, I now recall, having googled the menu to jog my memory. It came very rare, as I requested. The chips were rather anaemic and I ate, I think, three. My twice baked smoked haddock soufflé starter was exactly what you would expect – lightish, cheesy and fishy, with absolutely no surprises. I’m looking at the dessert menu right now and none of it is ringing any bells, so I may or may not have had one. I just can’t remember. But unusually for me, this is nothing to do with the martini, or the wine, or the three further martinis I had later at the Ivy Club (also in those weird little glasses. Where have all the martini glasses gone, that’s what I want to know. I’ll have them if they’re going cheap, I can make use of them, no problem). It’s down instead to the total lack of ambition in any of the dishes on the menu. It was just so boring. British food – fish and chips, steak, Dover sole, mutton pie – was exciting a few years ago. We were discovering it anew, thanks to the likes of Mark Hix and Fergus Henderson and getting excited about the rich produce of these small islands. But now, everyone with a gas ring’s doing it, and it’s become lazy. Comfort food is all very well, but done without even a modicum of flair at restaurant prices it becomes almost insulting. Mince and potatoes for fuck’s sake. I can do that at home. I can do it at home and it wouldn’t cost me £11.50, but I wouldn’t even bother to do it there, because it’s dull. It’s not even amusing, or ironic. It’s just mediocre and unimaginative. So buck your ideas up, Dean Street Townhouse, or it won’t just be my reputation taking a dive.


2 Responses to “Bog-standard British – Dean Street Townhouse review”

  1. Al Watt Says:

    Of course the flip side of your argument is that, if you stick to classic dishes, you don’t need to change them as often precisely because you are not trying to create or follow any trends. Granted the mince and potatoes is a bit of a statement, and it is starting to sound a little tired, but its still very nice. Not as nice as the fish and chips though, with mushy peas. They are awesome. Really properly awesome. The fish and chips I had there may only have been, fish and chips, but it was a sort of meta-fish and chips, the Platonic form of fish and chips against which I will now compare all other fish and chips. Why would we want them to take food that good off the menu? It’s simple, classic, and I’d be gutted if it was dumped for not being trendy enough.

    • mspigeon Says:

      Hi Al

      I agree with you entirely that if it’s done really well there’s nothing wrong with it, but the meal I had was unmemorable and in parts (the chips, for example, which should have been perfect) mediocre. I’m not interested in whether it’s trendy or not (in fact it is trendy, enormously trendy) but the food wasn’t good enough.

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