Thursday, 14 June 2007
32 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden
Like a celebrity wearing sunglasses indoors, 32 Great Queen Street likes to think it's something special, from the conspicuously nameless frontage and dark wood panelling. Inside however it's business as usual in the standard gastropub style - bare wood tables, rickety chairs, tumblers instead of wine glasses. It's a recipe that's worked well enough for its sister pubs the Anchor & Hope and Eagle, and judging by the noisy room full of happy customers on the evening we visited, it's got off to a very good start here too.
The first thing I noticed after I'd sat down was that the room appeared to be full of chefs; it was only after a few minutes it dawned on me that the waiting staff all were wearing chef's aprons. I suppose this isn't a big deal but it made me slightly guilty trying to ask for something, as if I wasn't supposed to be bothering them. Still, I soon got over it.
There were all sorts of interesting things on the minimalist menu - brawn, snails, fois gras, artichoke - quite an eclectic selection and it made exciting reading. However the trend towards stripped down descriptions of the items was a bit extreme. I had no idea what the 'Terrine' was a terrine of, or what 'crab on toast' was going to look like, but I suppose the mystery was appealing in a way. In the end I plumped for 'Brawn'.
This looked lovely on the plate, a rustic presentation but just tidy enough, and having had no idea what to expect from the description in the menu I was very pleasantly surprised. The texture of the brawn itself (ironically a kind of terrine) was interesting, with some big chunks of meat held together by a tasty pate, and cutting through the fat was a good sharp spray of mustard vinaigrette. A perfect introduction to something I'd never tried before - subtle, herby and great fresh ingredients.
The main was "Rabbit, snails and Spanish rice", so being the adventurous type I am it was a natural choice. It turned out to be a kind of risotto, bursting with gorgeous flavours and perfectly seasoned. The snails were superb, not drowned by the other ingredients at all, and nice and fleshy. In fact the only thing that stopped this dish short of perfection were a couple of horrible dry pieces of (I think) rabbit liver that I had to leave uneaten. Fair enough to use them in cooking the stock, but they had no place on the plate. Otherwise though, a good, bold main course.
The dessert was another hit - a Muscat Caramel Custard which tasted rich and satisfying, even if it looked a bit saggy on the plate. I had this with a glass of Muscat dessert wine - why not? - but the £10 house white we had been chucking down our necks all evening was also perfectly good.
It was about this time that I began to notice the overwhelming array of aromas filling the room from all the other dishes. Everything smelt incredible, of fresh ingredients and rustic French flavours; every time a waiter rushed past with another serving you could almost see other diner's nostrils flaring. Calm and sophisticated this restaurant is not, but for sheer exhilarating pleasure and market fresh food at very reasonable prices (the bill came to £38 each, including more than enough wine), you can certainly do no better in this part of town.