One Lombard Street is one of those archetypal City restaurants, like the Mercer, where you go because you work in the City and, you know, that’s just what you do. It’s no coincidence it was started by a former banker, Soren Jessen, in 1998: it has bankers in its DNA. It could probably start selling defrosted Iceland burgers and they would still eat there, out of blind habit.
Now it has “opened” 1776, a little 40-cover room at the back of the building. Calling 1776 a restaurant in its own right is a little disingenuous. I have eaten in what is now 1776 when it was still just “the room at the back of 1 Lombard Street”, the haute cuisine section of the main brasserie. It was a welcome refuge from the main dining room, which sits under a gigantic dome that amplifies even a dull chatter to the volume of a medium-sized football stadium. The food in the back room was as you’d expect: meat-heavy and guaranteed to leave you too full to do very much work all afternoon, especially when you factor in the obligatory bottle of red.
Now it has had a lick of paint – a pleasant kind of woody green – and a refurb that brings to mind a West End members’ club, complete with chandeliers and abstract paintings. It has also, apparently, got its own entrance on Mansion House Place, although after two laps of the block I gave up and went in through the door to the brasserie.
I took an old school friend, Nick, who lives out of town. In retrospect, 1776 isn’t ideal for this. It is perfect for a business lunch. It is great for a date – flashy and expensive. But it isn’t really what you want when you’re trying to impress an old friend. You want that hidden away little gem that makes everybody jealous you live in London. Going somewhere like 1776 is trying too hard. The waiter wheeling over a polished silver bowl big enough to encase a human head, containing the day’s carvery, didn’t help.
But 1776 isn’t stuffy – the service is commendably relaxed. The waiter insisted I try the fallow deer tartare to start, which is mixed at your table. I’m glad he did. The recipe – which includes Worcestershire sauce, capers and a splash of tabasco – combined with the heavy, richness of the venison, gives a much deeper flavour than regular steak tartare.
I went for the roasted côte de veau for the main, which pleased the waiter no end (“I always go for the meat – I’m a lion”). It was a quality cut, tender and succulent, although the accompanying pancetta, braised chicory and potato nest was a little predictable.
Nick went for the mint crusted fillet of lamb. It didn’t seem the done thing to start eating from the plate of someone you haven’t seen for a couple of years but his verdict was positive.
It’s not cheap – factor in a decent bottle of wine and you’re not getting much change out of £200 for two people. But this is a City restaurant. It has a giant silver bowl. If you’re worrying about the bill, you’re probably in the wrong place.
First published in City A.M.