People, I have seen the future, and it looks a lot like the past. 1970s Soho, specifically. Old Tom & English is hidden in plain sight on Wardour Street. To get into the latest offering from the Constantinou siblings you first have to find the barely-signposted door, which is much harder than it sounds. I arrive in Wardour Street a tiny, unremarkable amount late, but somehow that’s morphed into stupendously late by the time I’m shown to my date’s table. As well as the door, there’s a strict reservations-only policy to navigate – hopefully kicking off a trend; it’s nice feeling wanted when you turn up at a restaurant, and the restaurants of Soho are typically better at making you feel unwanted and something of a burden to them.
Phrases like ‘time-warp’ and ‘blast from the past’ have been thrown about in reviews of Old Tom & English since it opened in November. So I arrive expecting something on a Ye Olde Soho theme, all seedy glitz and a Goodnight Sweetheart-ish degree of gimmickry.
In fact, Old Tom & English is equal parts bar, restaurant and cave system. It feels a lot like being in your friend’s living room, assuming your friends are much wealthier and more into Seventies faux-marble than mine. And at the risk of killing any narrative suspense in this review, I loved it. I loved it from the first blast of warmth as you come down the stairs – go for one of the tables by the bio-ethanol fireplace – to the last smudge of whisky-spiked cream at the end of the dessert course.
So this is less a measured appraisal of the restaurant’s virtues and shortcomings than it is a list of everything we ordered, that I strongly recommend you also go there and order, post-haste.
But before getting into that list it should be noted – not least because otherwise it’s going to make us sound like people of unholy greed – Old Tom & English does sharing plates. In other places and other times I’ve railed against that, taking it as code for ‘we will give you less and then demand you subdivide it further’, but here it makes perfect sense. The tables aren’t bristling with glassware or flower arrangements, and the service is panther-quick; dishes are whipped away and replaced with fresh ones with a slickness that makes it feel like there’s an endless parade of food waiting for you behind the scenes. Which in turn takes the edge off the hunter-gatherer urge to shout ‘not ENOUGH’ at each small, perfectly-formed plate.
So we share. Contentedly, and in an on-theme way – it’s the Seventies! We’ll share our food! Later, we may share our lovers! – and supported by several cocktails, the best and most bizarre being the lavender gin and rosemary bitters of the Patience.
It’ll save time and column space if you assume that every successive dish was even better than the one before with the exception of the lamb rump with fennel, which by that logic should be right at the end. We start with the deep fried artichoke hearts, and then move onto the eggs on Melba toast with artichokes and Marmite butter. From there it’s a short foray into seafood with the pan-fried scallops with courgette, black pudding and lime, before we come up against the wall of meat that makes up most of the menu.
Our meat dishes start off gently with crispy pig cheek and cider apple, before moving on to the brute force of a slow-cooked smoked guinea fowl with anchovy mayonnaise. The latter being a dish that will make you realise there’s not a single compelling reason why all mayonnaise shouldn’t have anchovies in it.
From there it’s that lamb rump, and then a pan fried duck breast with chestnut. And then the desserts arriving puts a stop to the subtle hints I’m sliding towards my date about it not being too late to order another lamb rump. Thankfully, since although they’re all excellent it’d be self-sabotage to double up on any of these dishes and risk missing another.
The banana bread with whisky cream is spectacular. In a repeat of the anchovy epiphany, it feels like a solid argument for all cream having whisky in it. And the lemon and thyme baby doughnuts, with chocolate and pistachio crumbs, are baby doughnut-defining baby doughnuts. This is far and away the most pretentious thing I have ever said about a doughnut. But I cannot bring myself to regret it.
So in summary: take the most direct route to Old Tom & English. And when you’re overwhelmed with gratitude to me for having pushed this place so hard, feel free to say thanks by sending a Spiv’s Julep over to my table. I expect to be a fixture there this winter, staking out some warm corner near the fireplace. Just follow the trail of pistachio crumbs.
Old Tom & English, 187 Wardour Street, London W1F 8ZB. Tel: 020 7287 7347. Website.