Jeremy. Dear Jeremy. Darling Jeremy. The biggest transfer of the season is that of Jeremy Lee from Blueprint Café to Quo Vadis, the dining equivalent of a big money Premier League switch. He has pedigree, caché, and is a game changer of the highest order. Sam and Eddie Hart have pulled off a massive coup, convincing him to cross the water and leave his beloved Thameside view behind, luring him with a stake in the business as well as transforming the kitchen. He brings his own infectious brand of bonhomie and joie de vivre to what was already a handsome stage of a dining room, if missing a certain “something” – Enter stage left, Jeremy Lee.
A loyal servant to behemoth London restaurant group D&D for sixteen years at Blueprint, it always felt like he deserved a more accessible, central location where his confident yet modest brand of unwaveringly British cooking could be enjoyed by a new audience. Welcoming him to Soho feels so right, his flamboyance fitting right in with echoes of Soho’s most Bohemian excesses. It’s as if it was always meant to be.
The food has been transformed instantly by Jeremy’s arrival, and a cutely constructed menu takes you by the hand and leads you box by box, to a free-styling world of possibilities, traditional menu format jettisoned. There’s a sense of playfulness and freedom. Ooh look the smoked eel sandwich, oh wait there’s a pie option in the left hand box, hang on there are small bites up in the top left. Choose what looks good, set your own pace, chill out – the implicit message.
With this ethos in mind, dining alone and not having a main course feels absolutely normal while sitting in the main restaurant, something that would have jarred previously. I was also here mainly for that eel sandwich:
Smoked Eel & Horseradish Sandwich – A star from Jeremy’s Blueprint days since time immemorial, this beauty gets a dedicated box all to itself on the menu, and rightly so. Grilled sourdough encasing dense, deeply smoky, meaty chunks of eel. There’s a holy marriage within of creamed horseradish, dijon mustard and a smear of butter. Visceral and utterly satisfying. A quick hour pickle of red onions on the side cuts through that eel and cleanses between mouthfuls. Two, three a week? This would never bore.
Baked Salsify & Parmesan – A dish I first had cooked for me at Italo Deli by a certain Tom Adams of Pitt Cue Co., learnt from Jeremy when he put in a stint at Blueprint. Delicate batons of salsify wrapped and baked in a delicate filo-esque, Feuille de Brick pastry, two cigar like creations dusted with parmesan. A slight crunch, a cheesy hit, then earthy salsify – a great first few mouthfuls with a glass of wine, perfect if ordered at the bar.
Squid, Fennel, Puntarella – Delicate dish, playing a subtle balance between sweet curls of grilled squid, bitter green kick of puntarella, and the anise of fennel. Squeeze of lemon juice and olive oil. Simplicity artfully arranged, a great palate wakener.
Campari, Blood Orange & Pomegranate Sorbet – Yeah, so if a Negroni wanted to be a dessert, it would probably want to be this one. No gin, but all the other flavours are pressing the same buttons. Thrillingly cleansing, bitterness of Campari having a great time with the sweetness of Pomegranate (delusions of vermouth), and the unmistakeable zing of blood orange. Frozen shot of gin to pour over and you’d be sorted.
Glancing at the rest of the menu we see Leg of Middlewhite Pork, Beans & Green Sauce, another dish encountered at Blueprint Café some time ago – it was quite brilliant then, and will be so here. There is plenty there to tempt for another visit, Salt Mallard, Pickled Prunes & Watercress clamouring for attention, a daily pie today being Pheasant, Duck & Mallard - he loves a good pie, does Jeremy.
The wine list has been dragged up by its bootstraps, offering far more value than previously, and looking far less intimidating for the inexperienced. Sam Hart mentioned they have reduced their margins on the list ever so slightly, an important psychological shift for some bottles, making the funky Spanish blend of Treixadura and Albariño £28 rather than £32 a bottle – the £30 mental barrier popped. By the glass at £4.90 it made for good lunchtime drinking, perky acidity with no shortage of texture. They’ve kept the admirable two English glasses of fizz too, Gusbourne and Jenkyn Place.
Jeremy’s coruscating enthusiasm for the sheer joy of good food, good wine, good company, makes him exactly the right character to have landed in this iconic restaurant. Quo Vadis is playing in the Big Dogs league again, inspirational and totally relevant.
Soho now echos to the gentle cooings of “dahhhling” this and “dahhhling” that, coming from the kitchen on Dean Street. Jeremy, we’re so glad you’ve joined us in W1, darling…
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