It’s bistro dining but not as we know it.
The first thing you’d notice as you approach One Aldwych is its location, on the confluence of three bustling arterial roads in central London. And I mean central London; as its name suggests, we’re at the other end of the Strand from Charing Cross, from where all distances to London are measured. So, we have the Strand, Aldwych and Waterloo Bridge all grunting with traffic as it pulls away from the myriad lights not ten yards from the door.
But step through that door and you’re in a sanctuary; you’d never know you were urban. Urbane, perhaps, as silk-suited stockbrokers slurp flat whites over market moves and chattering ladies tuck into cake and Oolong perched on the edges of their burgundy velvet banquettes in the central lobby cafe. But, as I pass them, I look up as I bank round to the lifts; it’s the mezzanine where I’m headed, and to Indigo.
That’s its first surprise, where a restaurant is situated in the hotel. We’re overlooking the lobby below, suitably comfortable in casual chic surrounds, no pressure of white tablecloths but immediately eased into the ambience of this grand, former bank’s great hall. To be elevated is a pleasant diversion indeed. And there were more surprises to come.
Nibbling on some samphire and onion bread, the menu presented a difficult choice. An extensive top-to-bottom overhaul of the kitchens recently completed has, naturally, meant a revised offering. Nay, it’s even revolutionised. The difficulty is in what to settle for. A £20 two-course lunch menu gives three choices per course where you’d struggle to pick just one. There’s even a ‘create your own’ salad option – a winner with the office lunchers, I’m told. But it’s the a la carte options that give way to further temptation. They’re staples, but creative; Dorset crab is accompanied by pickled herring and potted shrimp (there you go; three starters on one plate), but what about the pigeon breast and glazed cauliflower, who wouldn’t? As for the mains; beer-battered catch-of-the-day and chips, lamb rump with samphire and anchovies, or a Thai monkfish stew. This was my dilemma. But then the halibut looked equally enticing. So different, so tempting, no themes, no gimmicks.
Not such a struggle with the wine; our maitre d’ knows his menu well and a gentle, floral Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis works effortlessly with the crab. I vow that I won’t stray beyond the one glass but the temptation is too much with the lamb as he overfills (bless you, that man) the Chateau Mazetier 2012 beyond the bowl. The samphire may have had the consistency of dental floss but the lamb, my word, the lamb. Specially selected from the Rhug Estate, its pedigree such that it’s noted on the menu, and it’s certainly worthy of the name. Simply sumptuous. And complimented by a tangy smoked aubergine puree and capers. This is delicious, unfussy bistro dining done exceptionally well. It’s abundantly clear why not a table was vacant. And not a peep to be heard from the traffic outside.
I touch on the prosaic because there was yet more to be revealed. And it came halfway through the chocolate mousse. You see, Indigo’s biggest secret is that it’s entirely dairy and gluten free. If you’d have told me before, or announced it on the menu, it would have prejudiced my choices. Gone would have been the fish and chips; the bread would have remained untouched and the mousse dismissed out of hand. But, on this revelation, I went back with my spoon, and again, and couldn’t pinpoint its faults. A little dense, perhaps? Something tangy in there? But the flavour was exceptional. To an ardent traditionalist it was, in a word, revelatory. And I was one of a long line of guests who, simply, hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. The decision to attempt this was born of guest enquiries and is testament to chef Dominic Teague’s ingenuity to apply it across the menu…and then to keep it quiet to see if anyone could tell.
As I left I detected something of an initiation had been undertaken and I was now accepted into the fold, a convert; the staff regarded me with a new-found reverence, over the customary politeness as I entered, and the maitre d’, proffering my jacket as I collected it at the door, gave me a wry smile as I thanked him, still reeling from the apparent duplicity. It was the air of the all-knowing. ‘The pleasure was all ours, sir.’ And I stepped back into the re-toxicating racket outside.
For more information about Indigo at One Aldwych, including details of its menu, visit www.onealdwych.com.