House, Restaurant & Bar, National Theatre, Southbank, London SE1

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House is the name of the most upmarket restaurant in the National Theatre complex. It is open from 5pm to 11pm daily, and it does lunch on the afternoons when there is a matinee performance. The décor is modern and understated. The linen is crisp and white. The cutlery, china and glassware are high quality. The sound level is low, so conversation is clear. They give warning announcements when shows are about to start. All in all, the perfect place to meet for pre or post theatre dinner.

They offer a set menu as well as an a la carte. The set menu is good value but the choice can be limited, the only vegetarian option was asparagus for both starter and main course on the day we were there. The a la carte menu is relatively short too, but this is often a good thing, it keeps the quality of the food high. The goat’s cheese brulee starter was delicious, although it was not not particularly brulee. The trout was good too, the presentation of both was excellent.

The steak main course was good, rump cap is not the greatest cut but it was cooked nicely. The plaice was fine too. The nicest of the three mains was the smoked pork belly – the meat was succulent and full of flavour, it went very well with the cabbage, which had a hint of sweetness and a good crispiness.  Once again, care had gone into the presentation, they all looked very appetising as they arrived to the table.

We ordered desert too. Like the other courses, they looked fantastic, tasted good and the portion size was modest. The wine list has a good range but quite expensive for what they are. Service was impeccable, efficient and unobtrusive.

It is usually relatively easy to get a table except on opening nights or press nights. It was less than half full on the evening we were there, but this was after the show. It would be safest to book if you wish to eat just before curtain up.  Everything about House is good; the food, the service, the ambience, but the cynic in me says that they are aware that people will pay a premium for the convenience and this is reflected in their prices.

The Albert Square Chophouse, Manchester.

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This restaurant is very centrally located – in a beautiful solid brick building, on the corner of Albert Square. The entrance is up a few steps to a nice bar space with a mixture of sofas and chairs. The restaurant is downstairs, it looks impressive as you descend, an industrial sized room filled with fully set dining tables, booths and banquettes. The windows are set high and the kitchen is open and visible from the dining room. The walls of both floors are lined with photos of Manchester luminaries, some recognisable others less so.

The menu is traditional British. The corned beef hash cake is a great starter, meaty and comforting. I had a rib eye steak and it was flavourful and tender, one of the best steaks that I have had. The steak and kidney pie was reportedly great too, done in the old fashioned way with suet in the pastry.

The wine list looked good, the house rose was excellent. They have a full bar, so the selection of beers is good too. The service was friendly and helpful. It is not a cheap restaurant, but everything they do is high quality, so definitely a meal to sit and savour. This is a venue for a night out, to enjoy the evening and chat after.

We ate early, 6pm, so we managed to get in without booking, but it was quite full by the time we left, so I would imagine it would need to be booked if you wanted to eat at a more popular time.

We thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back next time we are in Manchester.

Brasserie Blanc, Trinity Square, London

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The view from this member of Raymond Blanc’s brasseries is spectacular, from your table you overlook the crenellations of the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge in the background.
We ate from the Fixe Price menu and found the fare a little more average. The beetroot salad was nice and the soup good, but only lukewarm, we considered asking for it to be reheated, but in the end did not.
The mains were ok. My steak was good but small, the Beef Lyonnais were a little less tender than amazing and the cod was reportedly delicious after we had sent it back to be reheated.
The apple crumble was the highlight of the meal. the apple retained its consistency beautifully and the crumble was perfectly crisp and short. The chocolate pudding was also nice but once again had to be sent for reheating, as it was cold in the centre.
The waitress was excellent; very helpful and quite attentive, she brought us small glasses of the rose wines to try when we enquired about their flavours. The wine list looked very good, by the way, and not outrageously priced for central London.
Overall, this restaurant is decent, but go primarily for the view and you will not be disappointed.
 

The Café in the Crypt, St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London

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If you are near Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, St Martins Lane or the National Gallery, there is a lovely little hidden café underneath the St Martin-in-the-Fields church.
You enter by going downstairs in a circular glass structure in the wide alley just to the North of the church.
Once you are downstairs you will be in a large atmospheric crypt with beautiful arched vaulted ceilings. The acoustics are great, even when it is full you can hear your party’s conversation without difficulty.
The floor is flagged with large stones and some very old gravestones. There are busts of famous ancient Londoners  dotted throughout, in hidden alcoves.
It serves very good food; soup made on the premises, nice hot dishes that change from day to day, lovely cakes and biscuits and it is licensed, if you fancy a glass of wine with your lunch.
There is a good choice for vegetarians too.
If you a looking for somewhere that is right in the centre of tourist London that, perhaps, most tourists might miss, then this is just the place.
A real hidden gem!
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The picture above is of the entrance, in case you miss it. It has Jazz evenings on Wednesdays. Oh and the church that it is beneath, St Martin-in-the-Fields, is not to shabby either!

The Gallery, Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London

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This restaurant is quite modest in terms of décor, with its unvarnished tables and plain wooden floor, which in Fortnum and Mason terms is definitely understated. I have seen this listed as a low cost restaurant, but I couldn’t say that I agree with that description.  I suspect that you could get away with £25 per person if you were to choose the absolute cheapest starter and main course, but you couldn’t have a dessert or wine and you could certainly not drink tea.  I noticed that tea was £8 and while I have no doubt that it is lovely tea and will come in a pretty teapot, it is hardly economical.
However, the restaurant is attractive with a view over Jermyn Street out through the window and a view over the sweet displays when you look in towards the shop. Everything is very high quality, as you would expect; pretty menu, nice napkins, good cutlery and crockery. The service is excellent.
The food is lovely too, the ingredients are top notch and each dish is beautifully prepared and presented. The beef was perfectly cooked and the gravy was rich and indulgent. So, although this is not somewhere to go if you are on a tight budget, it does serve a great lunch and I recommend it if you feel like a treat.