Housed in London's Wren-designed cathedral, the Restaurant at St Paul's serves a classic British menu that has seasonality and provenance at its heart. Janie Stamford went to visit
The Restaurant at St Paul's has a lot to live up to. Wren's 17th-century cathedral, a phoenix from the ashes following the 1666 Great Fire of London, is a symbol of English heritage. However, tucked into one of London's most notable landmarks is a modest bistro that favours subtlety over grandeur.
A dedicated entrance at the north-west crypt door leads to an open, yet warm, light-filled space. Architect Wells Mackereth worked with the surveyor at St Paul's to convert this corner of the crypt into a sanctuary away from the bustle of the cathedral's large café. The walls are whitewashed and the oak furniture is plain. Terracotta tiles and seagrass matting soften the clean lines, the lofty ceiling height is broken up with a purpose-built mezzanine floor and the only hint of opulence is the mismatched antique silver.
Head chef Candice Webber echoes this ethos in her menu, where the produce is encouraged to do all the talking in a short selection of dishes with the emphasis on seasonality and provenance. For these ideals, Webber's passion is unwavering. She rewrites the menu monthly to reflect the changing seasons and rails against her peers who fail to do the same.
The 48-seat restaurant is the first stand-alone fine-dining venture from contract caterer Harbour & Jones and Webber is pleased to find her employer is singing from the same song sheet where provenance and seasonality is concerned. The company sponsors two cherry trees in East Sussex which supply all its sites and it encourages its kitchens to buy local where possible.
Open for lunch and afternoon tea, the restaurant aims to serve three courses of quintessential Britishness. The menu, priced at £16 for two courses, and £20 for three, opens with "Britain in a glass" - rhubarb and apple juice with English sparkling wine.
Webber makes her own salad cream and piccalilli and the butter that accompanies the organic bread is sourced from Jersey. Covent Garden specialist Kirbys supplies the fruit and vegetables and the cheeses come from Neal's Yard. A self-confessed fish and seafood champion, Webber takes delight in selecting varieties less commonly used such as hake and dog fish (rock salmon).
Starters include a pressed ham hock terrine accompanied by Webber's tangy piccalilli and slithers of bread; and soft-boiled Branford egg, sprouting broccoli, and roast beetroot served on a bed of lentil salad. The chef's penchant for seafood shines through in a first course of rope-grown mussels in Katy Somerset cider.
The main courses range from light to more hearty and include warm Brookland farm chicken served on baby gem leaves with a preserved lemon dressing; next to Trigger farm lamb rump with minted peas and edamame beans (£2 supplement). Roast hake is served with Savoy cabbage and brown shrimp butter, while steamed Loch Duhart salmon fillet comes with samphire and cucumber.
Among the puddings is the restaurant's most popular dish, the only one to have stayed on the menu for three months since opening: a creamy honey ice-cream sandwiched in moist, crumbly gingerbread, dressed with ginger syrup. It was inspired by a childhood ice-cream Webber enjoyed so much she admits it still makes her mouth water. The honey comes from Harbour & Jones's sponsored hives in Regent's Park and the ginger cake is a traditional one wrapped in paper to mature.
Other desserts include cherry trifle with elderflower liqueur; and fig and almond tart with clotted cream, while cheeses from Neal's Yard come with a £2 supplement offering a selection of British classics including Stichelton, Montgomery and Tymsboro'.
The wine selection continues the home-grown theme: featuring four English varieties from East Anglia, Kent and Gloucestershire, nestled among New and Old World wines.
The attentive service and understated approach to British cuisine within such a religious historic landmark proves to be a successful marriage. While the simple approach to the food speaks volumes, it is in hushed tones so as to complement rather than compete with the beautiful cathedral.
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