Proper Dining in the City – The Don:
Once upon a time, I worked in the City. One of my favourite places to eat was called ‘The Bleeding Heart’ – a charming French Bistro tucked away in a secret courtyard near Farringdon. Named after a 17th-century beauty, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who was found murdered there, it had a weird, macabre attraction – and excellent food and wine. The Don turned out to be part of the same group – with a somewhat less macabre but equally impressive history, it is housed in a Grade I listed building that dates back to 1342 which after being the home of the Drapers Guild went on to be the headquarters of Sandeman Port. An auspicious sign – given my love of Port!
The restaurant and bar still have all sorts of heritage fixtures and fittings, including old barrels and the iconic Sandeman man with a cloak. And, there’s a new executive chef in place, in the form of Frederick Forster who is a Master of Culinary Arts, a Roux Scholar and winner of National Chef of the Year in 2011. He’s work in some amazing restaurants – Le Manoir, Aubergine, Le Gavroche and the Ritz and joined The Don in June this year from his last role as Executive Chef of Le Pont de la Tour.
I arrived in the wrong place of course – the first building is a charming and lively wine bar with the fine dining restaurant tucked away to the side. And, I was actually rather sad to find that I needed to move on. It looked warm and welcoming, the kind of place I’d like to have near my own office.
The fine dining restaurant is altogether more spacious, with white linen tablecloths and contemporary art on the wall. And, a lot of wine on display. It turns out the restaurant has been awarded the Best of Award of Excellence from the Wine Spectator every year since opening and has more than 400 wines and 25 champagnes on offer. A good excuse to ask for the wines to be matched for us.
Over a welcome glass of champagne and our choice of home made bread rolls, we checked the menu. My eye was caught by the special starter – a service of crab and caviar with Cornish crab meat, Aquitaine caviar, smoked salmon, blinis and marinated cucumber, while my companion picked the chargrilled and tartar of Cornish mackerel with gooseberries, potato and dill vinaigrette.
The fresh crab came beautifully presented on its own ice bed. While the dainty mini blinis looked very cute, they were the weakest element of the dish for me. But, I loved both the brown crabmeat and the flakey white mixture – and the carefully marinated cucumber with a dab of caviar. My wine pairing worked very well too, a Trinity Hill, “Gimblett Gravels”, New Zealand Marsanne Vigonier, lightly floral with lovely honey notes.
My companion’s mackerel looked stunning and my taster mouthful was delicious. She was served with a glass of Chablis, Dom. Vincent Dampt from Burgundy.
I was trying my best to pick healthy dishes. My choice of steamed halibut with a delicately spiced enoki mushroom broth was delicious and light. And, perfectly cooked too. Paired with a Trinity Hill Chardonnay it was the kind of food which left me feeling pleasantly full but not bloated.
I did have a tad of food envy though for my companion’s 21 day aged beef fillet with watercress puree, braised oxtail and red wine sauce. A classic dish which was paired for her with Trinity Hill “Gimblett Gravels” Bordeaux blend
At the time I didn’t realise the significance of the Trinity Hill wines, but it turns out that the owners of the Bleeding Heart group Robyn and Robert are also co-owners of Trinity Hill. Robyn, a London-based Kiwi, is Trinity Hill’s Chairman.
Having behaved with great restraint during the meal I felt that a dessert was in order. Vanilla Panna-Cotta with pain perdu and peach sorbet hit the spot perfectly, especially paired with a Sauternes, Chateau Delmond 2012.
My companion was tempted by the stunning cheeseboard and didn’t seem disappointed with her selection
We left as enthusiastic champions for The Don. It is the kind of place where I’ll go back with friends, if not for fine dining to the friendly wine bar – depending on the occasion. My companion was already plotting to take her partner to the fine dining restaurant for a date night. And that is probably the best endorsement of all.
Looking for places to eat in the City of London? Why not pin this post for later!
The Don Restaurant,
20 St Swithin’s Ln,
London EC4N 8AD