Have you ever encountered a situation where you enter a recently lauded restaurant expecting it to be packed like sardines, only to find it empty? My mate Sam, the “wicket keeper” at merchant Bordeaux Index who recently returned from Hong Kong, had secured a table at Anglo in central London, but obviously, judging by the empty seats, there was no need to call ahead. And what always happens in this situation is that the waitress inquires whether we had booked a table. You survey the emptiness and wait for the tumbleweed to blow across from the kitchen, resisting temptation to utter the words: “Yes, and thank goodness we did.” So we take a pew and wait for other diners to materialize, but as it transpires, we are the sole patrons on Friday lunchtime save for one other couple at a window table who, by sheer chance, turn out to be wine buyers.
Where was everyone?
Maybe it was the unusually hot weather. When Britain bathes in Mediterranean climates on a Friday afternoon, London’s streets will swarm with office workers cancelling afternoon meetings on their phones so that they can start the weekend early with a few beers. When I used to work in the city, the acronym was P.O.E.T.S. (Pissed Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday.)
Perhaps it was too hot to contemplate eating inside?
Well, the air conditioning was working, and it was a perfect temperature. The small interior is simple and comfortable, refurbished by the owners of Anglo themselves after acquiring the lease last year instead of shelling out on some chichi design. Apart from a snazzy neon sign in the front window, there is nothing remarkable to look at here, following the lines of a smart, retro-tinged canteen rather than a luxurious restaurant as seems to be à la mode.
One thing I do know is that the absence of diners that day was certainly not because of the standard of cuisine, which was excellent from start to finish. Chefs Mark Jarvis and Jack Cashmore trained at Restaurant Sat Bains and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, among others, and frankly you are not going to survive at those establishments without being able to rustle something decent on a plate. Apparently there is a set tasting menu—although it is apparently only available in the evening, so we ordered à la carte. As soon as the soothing whiff of warm sourdough bread landed on our table flanked by a fabulous bowl of soft yeast butter, you knew that this restaurant would deliver.
In a rare moment of health-consciousness, I opted for the Wye Valley asparagus with green beans, marjoram and sorrel. The asparagus was tender and full of flavor, perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned. For the main, the hot weather obliged the wild turbot with smoked onions and dill, plus a side of new potatoes. The two cuts of the turbot were, once again, perfectly cooked and seasoned, simple but effective, the flavors of the turbot—a fish that does not require frills or complication—lifted by the dill. The skin was sublimely crisp and bursting with flavor. For dessert, I chose chocolate with yogurt and basil. Chocolate and basil always seems like an odd match, but done correctly in measured quantities, basil can enhance the chocolate and lend an herb-like coolness. It was a treat.
The wine list is not short but “economical,” mostly well chosen with reasonable prices for the capital. We paid corkage on a couple of bottles and ordered from the list. We commenced with an outstanding bottle of champagne, the 1995 Blanc de Millénaries from Charles Heidsieck that was edgy and razor-sharp but did not set your teeth on edge. Unfortunately, the 1971 Barolo from Mascarello was like Nebbiolo-flavored dishwater, a shame since my friend told me another bottle had shown beautifully a few weeks earlier. Old bottles of Italian wines are so hit and miss. Storage conditions for old Italian wine is often questionable even for bottles stored at the winery, and consequently you never quite know what you going to get. Now we had a minor emergency as we were out of red wine, so I ordered a bottle of 2015 La Brujas de Rozas from Bodegas Comando G. Just like my colleague Luis, I adore these wines from Sierra de Gredos, just north of Madrid. The mulberry and cherry fruit is intense, but there is coolness and energy in their wines and it was a damn perfect match for the turbot. By the time we finished that, a bottle of 2000 Montrose had arrived. As I mentioned in my write-up earlier this year, I feel this vintage has been overshadowed by subsequent releases such as the 2005 and 2009, but do not ignore fantastic, quite structured but delicious millennial Clarets like this. This Montrose has just started drinking but will give another couple of decades pleasure. Repairing to our friend's table, we shared their 1996 Ducru Beaucaillou and 1996 Pichon Lalande, two standouts from that vintage and drinking supremely well (see my 1996 report from last year).
I cannot really fault the food at Anglo. It was perfectly executed. There was nothing over-ambitious, nothing challenging. It’s the kind of food that leaves you feeling good about yourself. The service was friendly and considerate without imposing, which can sometimes be the case when a restaurant is not full. And rest assured when I did pop back into London, I took a detour to see if Anglo was still in business. Sure enough, it was packed full of happy gastronomes as it deserves to be.
(My thanks to Mr. Gleave for the splendid lunch and a good old natter).