Is there a greater sign of our times than a hospital closing down to be replaced by a modern European restaurant? It’s the kind of thing politicians go wild for, especially this close to an election.
“I pledge that my government will favour nurses over barbecued langoustines. We need hospital beds, not Jerusalem artichoke risotto.”
But that’s what has happened to Middlesex Hospital, which closed in 2005 – an election year at that! – finally reopening a few weeks ago as Fitzroy Place. The restaurant on the ground floor, Percy & Founders, is a sprawling 200 cover affair with vaulted ceilings and stone archways. It even has a ghostly chapel that lurks behind a glass pane in the dining room, the last remnant of the old hospital.
The decor is earthy, as is fashionable these days. It gives the impression it’ll improve with age, once it’s had a few drinks spilled on it and gotten some scuffs on the furniture.
It’s going for the young crowd; the art is of the kind your grandparents would disapprove of – a gigantic painting of a dog wearing a cone dominates a stairwell – and it was playing some pretty decent house music, which is unheard of in the restaurant business. The strategy seems to be working – a group of girls in their early 20s were at the table next to us, which made me wonder how on earth they could afford to eat here, because while it’s not wildly expensive, it’s certainly not cheap.
The menu couldn’t scream “spring” any louder if it were covered in pictures of hatching chicks and daffodils. There’s tuna tartare with spring onions, cucumber and a little too much lime; spring vegetables with goat’s cheese; a satisfyingly meaty lobster and prawn scotch egg with a pornographically gooey yolk. There’s lettuce soup, which sounds like it should be a bowl of murky water but is in fact a vivid green concoction thickened with potato and, I suspect, coloured with spinach. It comes with croutons topped with bacon, smoked tomatoes and onion jam – don’t ask me how you dunk them in the soup without the topping tumbling in.
It’s all exceptionally pretty and very well put together, which is to be expected given Diego Cardosa is executive chef. He used to head up the kitchen at Angela Hartnett’s fine-dining Italian Murano, one of the handful of restaurants that everybody in the known universe agrees is thoroughly excellent.
Percy & Founders is quite a departure for him; more relaxed, trendier, somewhere you’d go on a whim after work rather than book six months in advance.
Of the mains, only one was explicitly Italian – tagliatelle with spring greens, nettles and haytor cheese. The pasta was faultless: firm and taut, although it became a bit of a slog about half way through thanks to the sheer amount of butter involved.
My main was made up of strips of chicken breast separated from its browned skin by a layer of herbs, a fatty cube of leg meat, cooked ever so slightly rare, and a little golden chicken pasty so light you could almost fool yourself it was healthy (the menu called it a pie, but it was definitely a pasty).
Whipped dark chocolate, caramelised oats and honeycomb was a haphazard pile of delicious sweet things – to hell with presentation. Lemon curd, yoghurt, almond crumble and prosecco sorbet was a more refined affair: light and tart. This was all washed down by a couple of glasses of Timotheus Grüner Veltliner, a fantastic Austrian wine that deserves a place on any wine list.
Percy & Founders is a perfectly decent restaurant. I can’t imagine people flocking from far and wide but if you’re in Fitzrovia, it’s worth a try – it’s so big I doubt you’d have to book. And, to be frank, for caramelised oats that good, I’d advocate shutting down a few more hospitals.
First published in City A.M.