I must to admit having a bit of a soft spot for the excellent gastropubs operated by the ETM Group, a group founded by brothers Tom and Ed Martin back in 2000 and which now operates 10 venues across central London smart City gastro pubs, contemporary brasseries/bars, and small neighbourhood pubs. I think they generally strike the right balance between “gastro” and “pub”, and some of their venues (like The Gun on the Docklands) combine good food and wine with outstanding location to guarantee a faultless meal. I have had the pleasure of dining with them at The Angel & Crown, The Gun, the Cadogan Arms, the White Swan and The Well – so when the decision as to where to host a dinner for Meeta’s food photography workshop in February was left up to me, I needed little persuasion to get in touch with the ETM Group. The venue we chose was the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms, a stones’ throw away from the venue of the workshop, in the heart of the City of London. After hearing our group size and requirements, the events manager allocated us a private room in the Montcalm Hotel within whose premises both the Chiswell Street Dining Rooms and its sister restaurant the Jugged Hare are situated (although we were still ordering off the Chiswell Street menu). When I received the booking form with instructions to staff I knew we had made the right choice when I saw the hilarious warning in red at the top of the form: “These are all photographers who will be taking photos of the food!!!!”
After a hard days workshopping, it was a pleasure to stroll through the doors of the hotel and be greeted with a board bearing our workshop name and directions to our room, which could hardly have been lovelier – high ceilings, twinkly chandeliers and a beautifully laid table, plus lots of space for us to stash all our bags so that neither diners nor staff would trip over them. After a restorative glass of wine and a few words of welcome from Meeta, we settled down to enjoy our meal, served by the irrepressible Anton who had been assigned the job of looking after our party for the night. To start, Meeta and I shared the Scottish salmon tartar with soft boiled quail eggs, caviar and iced horseradish and a plate of Longhorn beef fillet carpaccio with black figs and parmesan. The carpaccio was delicious – what an inspired idea to add torn figs – but the star of the show for me was without a doubt the salmon. The fish itself was yielding and full-flavoured; the quail eggs perfectly soft-boiled; and the ball of what appeared to be creme fraiche turned out to be horseradish sorbet – a delightful twist and completely addictive with the salty salmon. Other guests started with sweetcorn velouté with Dorset crab & sourdough croutons; or Pink Fir potato salad with goat’s cheese, courgettes and a wholegrain vinaigrette.
For my main course, I opted for something fishy to balance the richness of the starters, and chose the pan-fried fillet of sea bass with olive oil mashed potato, smoked celeriac remoulade and an orange & rosemary sauce. This was as pretty as a picture, and I was intrigued by the smoked celeriac remoulads with its real and appealing smoky flavour. The fish was flaky perfection and the mash was indulgent and smooth – a great dish all round. Meeta enjoyed her pan-fried Middle White pork fillet and slow roast belly with Jerusalem artichoke purée, fondant potato and apple chutney. Other choices around the table included the Chiswell Street seasonal salad (vegetarian option) and the cep and hedgehog mushroom linguini with shaved parmesan and truffle. We had also ordered a selection of sides which included excellent fried, small green salads, sprouting broccoli, and hispi cabbage with bacon bits, served in truly covetable little copper saucepans.
Long before we had even set foot in the Chiswell Streeet Dining Rooms, Meeta and I had been looking at the menu and she already had her heart set on the salted caramel tart with caramelised bananas – but on the night it had disappeared from the menu. But as soon as she asked after it, the wonderful Anton disappeared and returned with a portion especially for her. Full marks for service! I chose the chocolate roulade with Kirsch cherries which was lighter than it sounded, with a shard of outstanding dark chocolate as decoration, and some seriously boozy cherries to match the rich, dark roulade. Elsewhere around the table, people were enjoying white chocolate parfait with port roasted plums and an almond tuille; a lemon and poppy seed cake with ice-cream and a tuille, and even a special birthday dessert plate for Marie-Louise, our birthday girl.
I think it is safe to say that by the time we eventually left, everyone was feeling well-fed, and very well looked after by the staff. The food, facilities and staff on the night were all excellent, but more than that, it had been a pleasure working with staff to arrange the evening and finalise the menu. They had been very accommodating in terms of special dietary requirements and making sure that there was something for everyone on the limited menu, and no request was too much trouble. If you are thinking of hosting a group meal in the City, I can’t recommend Chiswell Street Dining Rooms highly enough. We paid a set price per head for our meal, but if ordering a la carte, most starters range from £6 to £10; mains range from £14 to £29.50; and desserts are all democratically priced at £6.50. They also do great value pre- and post-theatre menus (2 courses for £22 or 3 courses for £27) which are perfect if you’re nipping off to see something at the Barbican, virtually next door.
Liked: the outstanding service, the memorable smoked salmon starter
In a nutshell: An attractive setting conveniently located for the Montcalm Hotel for a party, or a dinner of fine food without the fuss of fine dining
Wow factor out of 10: 8
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms
56 Chiswell Street,
Tel: +44 (0)20 7614 0177