The Quality Chop House
88-94 Farringdon Rd, London EC1
I have a confession to make. Not exactly some dark and nefarious secret, rather something of which I am not proud. Not proud at all. It concerns one of London’s most beloved restaurants, a place that has sat on the same site since 1869, a place that sends both punters and pros into eternal fits of rapt adoration.
The Quality Chop House lives on the Farringdon Road, a slab of Victoriana every bit as iconic as Smithfield market, a brisk stroll away. I must have wandered past a thousand times, with its pitch-black facade and gold Gothic font, its offer, etched in the window, of ‘Civility’, and ‘Snacks’ and ‘London’s Noted Cup of Tea’. And its description, of not only ‘Dining And Tea Rooms’, but ‘Progressive Working Class Caterer’ too. I know that frontage like the back of my hand, but have I ever walked through the doors of The Quality Chop House? To my eternal shame, I have not.
The Quality Chop House is a magnificent restaurant, with true hospitality stained deep into its curlicued walls
Why, I just don’t know. I always meant to go when it was run, in the Nineties, by chef patron Charles Fontaine. But once Fontaine moved on, its star started to fade. By the time it was reduced to flogging meatballs in 2012, I’d lost the urge altogether. But it was then bought by Will Lander, a fine restaurateur, along with Josie Stead, manager at Dinner by Heston, and chef Shaun Searley installed behind the burners.
And for once, do believe the hype. The Quality Chop House is a magnificent restaurant, with true hospitality stained deep into its curlicued walls. You glide over a black-and-white chequerboard floor, and squeeze into the original Victorian seating. Thankfully, cushions have softened the Presbyterian pews, but there’s still much to worship. The charming waiters in their striped aprons, a genuinely interesting wine list, and specials scrawled daily on to blackboards. Despite your feeling the every fidget of your neighbours (the pew backs are thin, to say the least) the room feels both cosy and discreet.
The menu is unashamedly British, but not overwhelmingly so. There are hearty beef shin croquettes, with a parsley mayonnaise and a sigh of spice. And fried brill spine, a whip of bone laden with luscious nuggets of fish, topped with curls of sweet-sour pickled lemon. There’s no place for knife and fork here. You rip off the golden skin with your teeth, and gnaw until it’s picked clean.
Monkfish liver is swooningly rich. Without the chunks of tart apple, and the sweetly ferric tang of sea aster, it would be too much. But it works. Rather more simple, but no less mighty, is a slab of Mangalitza bacon with thick ribbons of luscious fat and a good toothsome chew, dragged through a sweet, smoky chilli-spiked ketchup.
The mince on dripping toast is no-nonsense proletarian fodder that soothes and seduces and fills the heart with meaty glee
Roast grouse comes on the bone, with game chips, an alabaster splodge of bread sauce, clear intense gravy and a fistful of watercress. The bird is young and sweet, the flesh pink but not bloody. It cannot be improved. But if that small bird hovers at the posher end of British eating, then mince on dripping toast is the polar opposite, no-nonsense proletarian fodder that soothes and seduces and fills the heart with meaty glee. Top quality, fresh, dry-aged ground beef, slowly cooked in a lake of stock, both chicken and beef, until it has the depth of Wastwater Lake, and the muscular heft of Botham in his pomp. All this is lavished upon a slice of toasted sourdough, which in turn is fried in dripping. It transforms an everyday dish into something quite extraordinary, each mouthful filled with silken, bovine allure. This is one of London’s great dishes, in one of London’s great restaurants. I haven’t even started on those mighty confit potatoes. Everything here is done well. With the minimum of fuss. For a couple of blessed hours, The Quality Chop House allows one to escape the madness of the outside world. And revel in succour, good cheer, and mince on dripping toast.
Three courses for £26. Grouse an £18 supplement