Discrete Drinking and Dining at Old Tom & English:
The entrance to Old Tom & English is a smart black door with a prominent shiny brass doorbell. At the top end of Wardour Street, you’d never know it was there. And that, I suspect is part of the idea. People who come here (and you have to book in advance) are looking for somewhere to meet that is comfortable and relaxed. The interior of the venue has been designed by Lee Broom, a London designer whose work combines 60s pop culture with quality workmanship to create the kind of space any well heeled batchelor would be proud to call his own.
The result, a home from home where guests can relax and enjoy food and cocktails or choose from a small but well formed wine list and a few beers. I went along to join a few other food writers and learn more about it. Of course the first challenge for me is that while I love cocktails generally after one I start to loose any ability to hold the camera steady. The trick, I’ve learnt, is to stick to champagne cocktails and to drink a lot of water. That’s my excuse anyway for picking the Classic Champagne Cocktail rather than one of the more challenging options (how about an Irn Bru Margarita or Spivs Julep).
On to the food – we ordered a whole selection of the different sharing plates, starting with two portions of triple cooked chips and going back for more. I’d have to be careful if I arranged to meet friends here. I’d be tempted to turn up early just so I could have an extra portion of chips for myself.
My only real ‘food phobia’ is eggs, so, while hen’s egg and mushroom on melba toast wasn’t my taste, it was immaculately presented. I had a little of the mushroom on toast with artichoke and marmite butter – I’d have happily ordered ‘hold the egg’ and enjoyed some more of the mushrooms with just a hint of marmite.
Battered seabass was the least successful of the dishes for me with the fish rather overwhelmed by a heavy batter. But the scallops with red cabbage, pea, mint, goats cheese and bacon sand were delicious and had us all asking for more again.
I didn’t expect to fall in love with the pigs cheek, but actually it was a wonderful concoction, with a crispy shell hiding tender slow cooked pork.
Seared rump of lamb was pink and delicate with fennel and mint complementing the sweet meat perfectly.
Lamb sweetbread salad was another dish that I might not have tried but which worked really well. Badly cooked sweetbreads are chewy and unpleasant – these were tender and nicely coated in a light batter.
The star dish for me was the guinea fowl, a slow smoked melting confit served with anchovy mayonnaise.
Desserts were small mouthfuls of comfort food. sugary lemon and thyme baby doughnuts, a flourless salted chocolate cake and banana bread with whisky cream. All the kind of dishes I’d like to serve at home for pudding, but would never deliver so faultlessly.
Old Tom & English is the sort of place that I’d like to keep as my secret. To make sure that when I want to book, there’s always space. It’s well priced with small plates between £5 and £12, with cocktails almost all under £10 and with wine from £19 a bottle. You can even indulge in a bottle of Pol Roger for £52 or stay with the English and enjoy Nyetimber for £39 a bottle.
A reservations only policy may be contrary to current trends, but so is the refined and comfortable decor. It is almost as if the owners of Old Tom & English are suggesting we should act as adults and all stop pretending we enjoy queuing in the dark for a burger and beer in a warehouse style shack in Shoreditch. I, for one, am perfectly happy to play at being grown up if it means I get to enjoy more smoked guinea fowl washed down with one of their ‘libations’.
Old Tom & English
187b Wardour Street
London W1F 8ZB
Reservations 020 7287 7347