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Quo Vadis review

Quo Vadis review

by Camilla Stoddart 25 August 2015

Quo Vadis is an iconic Soho destination famed for its ever-changing menu of Modern British fare. Our contributing editor, Camilla Stoddart, found it an excellent place to shelter from the miserable August rain.

Previously in-house writer and editor for Heston Blumenthal and cookery publisher at Penguin, Camilla is a freelance editor and writer who manages to combine her love of food with her love of words for a living.

The charmingly illustrated menus at Quo Vadis have a top-line weather forecast printed under the day’s date presumably to remind you that the menu, like the weather, changes every day. The Saturday evening of our visit was ‘variable’ according to the menu and outside it felt unseasonably cold for August. Inside, however, the outlook was ‘fair’ rising to ‘warm’ as we were shown through the elegant 1920s dining room to a cosy corner next to the beautiful stained glass windows. The understated glamour of the dining room with creamy leather banquettes, original parquet floor, crisp linens and mirrored surfaces creates an atmosphere of sheltered calm – it could be blowing a force 8 gale outside and you would be blissfully unaware.

As it was my partner’s birthday, we started by ordering an extremely nice bottle of Condrieu which cast the rest of the evening in a mellow, honeyed light, fitting for the warm front that was now passing through the restaurant. It was intensely aromatic, rich and buttery and couldn’t help make us smile as we settled in to read the menu.

The sophistication of the surroundings belies the simplicity of the food at Quo Vadis. Instead of fussy fine dining as you might expect, the menu is made up of seasonal ingredients served in uncomplicated, pleasing combinations like Smoked cod’s roe and a soft boiled egg; Middlewhite, sweetcorn, spring onion and marjoram; Onglet, girolles and green beans; Peach and blackberry mess. I wanted everything but in terms of starter, I knew what I was going to choose even before I left home . . .

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The smoked eel sandwich

I have been a fan of chef Jeremy Lee for many years and will follow his smoked eel sandwich wherever it goes. I was delighted to find it still on the menu – it has happily become a Quo Vadis fixture – and knew that it had to be the sandwich for me. It is a thing of such beauty: the smoked eel is served between two slices of toasted sourdough bread spread with just the right amount of horseradish. On the side is a soft mound of perfectly pickled sweet onions that makes this a dish that perfectly illustrates the expression ‘more than a sum of its parts.’ It is sublime.

 
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Crab and mayonnaise

We both had the eel sandwich to start (I couldn’t be persuaded to share) and then ordered an extra salad of grilled squid, tomato, lemon and capers between the two of us which was a perfect light counterpoint to the rich smokiness of the eel and reminded us that it was, in fact, still summer. I followed this with the crab and mayonnaise with side orders of chips and a green salad – my idea of total heaven – while my partner enjoyed lamb sweetbreads, almonds, peas and mint. The crab felt very luxurious as I tucked into my bowl of picked white crab meat served with a rich, glossy mayonnaise the texture of which I can only dream about replicating at home (mine is always a bit limp and lacklustre, somehow). The sweetbreads were just as they should be: gently crisp on the outside and meltingly soft in the middle and they worked brilliantly with the fresh minted peas and chopped almonds – it was the sort of effortless combination that you can trust Jeremy Lee to come up with time and time again.

We didn’t ‘need’ a pudding but chose a lemon and almond cake to share so we had an excuse to order a glass of Sauternes to go with it – more golden, honeyed loveliness in a glass. The cake was all about the dense texture and the sharpness of the lemon and the rhubarb with which it was served – it was a perfect way to end the meal.

It is the service at Quo Vadis that bridges the gap between the formality of the dining room and the relaxed, pared-down style of the food – it is smart and professional but unstudied and friendly at the same time. Yes, there are endless folk pouring your wine or topping up your water glass or cleaning your linen tablecloth with a silver crumb scraper, but there is also welcome chat, excellent menu knowledge and plenty of charm. We felt extremely well looked after and very well fed. By the time we left, the forecast had improved to ‘very warm with regular sunny intervals' despite it having begun to drizzle in the Soho streets outside.

 
 

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