Walkers appears the quintessential London pub. You enter just off Whitehall, from Craig’s Court down a cobbled lane. The bar is upstairs. It’s a reasonably busy pub, populated by civil servants and tourists.
But downstairs the restaurant has a very different atmosphere. Leather banquette seating, and wooden floors provide an elegant look, and a gentle hubbub simmers throughout.
It’s odd to find this kind of atmosphere in Whitehall for a reasonable price. Most restaurants around Trafalgar Square are Frankie and Bennie outlets or Spaghetti Houses. The menu at Walker’s offers a degree of refinement, which still won’t break the bank.
The menu might appear conventional: bavette steaks, lamb leg, burgers, spring chicken – but the dishes are exoticised by an almost eccentric diversity of flavours from around the world. Starters include harissa chicken wings, n’duja croquettes, and charred cauliflower with tahini.
In truth I don’t understand why there is such a range of flavours. There doesn’t seem to be any coherent logic to the decision. Why would I dine on spring chicken with preserved lemons and rose harissa, in a space that seems more like Simpsons-in-the-Strand than Honey and Co or Ottolenghis?
We start with the N’duja croquettes and charcoal baked beetroots with whipped feta, orange and walnuts. The N’duja adds a huge amount of heat to the croquettes, although not really much flavour. The beetroots and whipped feta, though, was moreish – concocting an interesting dish from basic tastes.
Lamb rump and steak next. The lamb rump is served with coco beans and datterini tomatoes, the steak is served with café de paris sauce. We order rainbow chard as a side. The coco beans add a darkness to the lamb rump, and the steak is good; but the dishes don’t reach any higher than the sum of their parts. It’s decent food – not great food.
Given the paltry offerings in the vicinity, however, Walker’s is a more than useful bolthole if you ever find yourself ravenous near Whitehall. The prices are modest for the location, and the atmosphere is classically stylish.
It’s such a shame that these flavours don’t match up to the atmosphere at Walker’s. In many ways, the restaurant would be improved by adhering to simpler British tastes. Why introduce Middle Eastern flavours to a menu, and surroundings, which at first glance both seem quintessentially British? It would have been far better to offer a more authentic, and similarly reasonable, British menu full of fantastic tasting ingredients, than to attempt a veneer of flavour through exotic spices.
And as I leave this seemingly quintessential English pub, and wander down Whitehall, I feel simply that some things ought to remain as they appear.
Walkers of Whitehall, 15 Craig’s Court, London SW1. For more information, including menus and details of Christmas bookings, visit www.walkersofwhitehall.co.uk.