Tuttons, 11/12 Russell Street, Covent Garden London WC2B 5HZ

Pride of place

You can never have too much wood paneling…

For over 30 years Tuttons, directly opposite Covent Garden Piazza, had been serving up average meals to the hoards of unsuspecting tourists… But no more! Recently re-opened and renovated, it’s now serving a fresh new menu that deserves pride of place in what is now one of the capital’s foodie hot spots (Mishkin’s and The Opera Tavern are literally round the corner).

On our visit, group MD Hugh Fowler was on hand to run through what had changed and what improvements had been made. He was right when he said that every great city square, of which Covent Garden Piazza is undoubtably one, needs a quality restaurant to not only cater to the tourist trade but to locals too. It’s amazing that Fire & Stone pizzas in Maiden Lane gets more table reservations than Tuttons – something that Hugh is aiming to change… Open daily from 8am to serve a good choice of breakfasts (a mighty full English is £9.95) and with underground vaults available for private hire or business meetings, Tuttons has all the bases covered.

… or too many light-bulbs!

So what has changed? Well, just about everything. Saff’s Dad (a brilliant photographer by the way) used to regularly take her to Tuttons as a child, his secretary was friends with the then owner Chris Turrell, a bit more history can be found here. So she has very fond memories of the place and knows what’s been done, the multi million pound makeover by renowned interiors company Russell Sage Studios (work includes the fab Zetter Townhouse and The Savoy) looks stunning. They have kept the original and very traditional parquet flooring but added chunky wooden paneling and aged mirrors on the walls. To add an even more modern yet eccentric feel, the tables are topped in what looks like metallic crocodile skin (fake of course). We also loved the oversized lamp shades, they reminded us of unflattering skirts – you know the ones that the mad great auntie of the family used to wear! Shame that the red booths reminded us of an Angus Steakhouse, maybe this is a conscious decision to lure in a few Americans?

The menu has been vastly improved too. Out are the overpriced touristy dishes and in is a menu inspired by seasonal produce and good old reliable British ingredients such as Sussex ham hock and my new favourite dish, Yorkshire black pudding. One thing they have kept from old is the grill selection – well if it ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it… All the steaks we saw looked amazing, especially the 28 day aged 8oz Sirloin steak, £20 (served with dressed watercress and matchstick chips) and the Chateaubriand béarnaise, a roast fillet steak, £60 for 2 (served with matchstick chips and béarnaise sauce.)

Play the new olympic event… Chase the olive around the bowl with a cocktail stick

Along with using fresh British ingredients, Tuttons has introduced some award-winning English wines. We had a glass of the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 2007, a light sparkling wine from West Sussex. At £12 a glass or £65 per bottle it’s not cheap but it’s a good UK alternative to Champagne, and Saff said she prefered it. We also tried a few glasses of the DeMorgenzon DMZ Syrah, £27.50 a bottle, a light and delicately fruity red that apparently has baroque music played to the grapes 24 hours a day in the vineyards in South Africa. We were asked whether we could pick out any of these musical ‘notes’ when sampling this red (Hugh’s pun, not ours). The Paul Tutton Waipara West Pinot Noir, £39.50 a bottle, was also an excellent red if you fancied splashing out a little more.

Also worth a little mention is the bowl of Mixed olives, £3.25. There were two varieties, the plump grass-green olives similar to those from Puglia and the small dark red ones. Both were creamy and delicious drenched in oil, making them slippery little suckers and incredibly difficult to stab with a cocktail stick!

The fantastic 4

As this was a tasting session, we were served a plate of four superb sample sized starters (try saying that after a few glasses of Syrah). And my only criticism is that they could of/should of been bigger servings, as they were all delicious with different flavours coming through each and every bite size serving.

Here’ a brief rundown of each offering…
1) Pressed Sussex ham hock served with mustard piccalilli and rye bread £7.50. The hock ham crumbled perfectly as soon as you touched it with the fork and the piccalilli was so sweet and so crunchy, nothing like the average shop bought variety.
2) Yorkshire black pudding with Savoy cabbage and parchment bacon £7.75,. My favourite starter, the blood pudding was soft, almost as if it has been purified and them reshaped. This taste and texture complimented the ultra crispy (parchment) bacon and the slightly salty cabbage.
3) Tuttons cured salmon, fennel and smoked caviar, £7.95. Our least favourite starter, but that’s a bit like saying it’s like the least favourite £20 note in your wallet! It was tricky to determine if the smokey flavour was coming from the salmon or the caviar that was dotted over the dish. The  horseradish wasn’t too strong to over power the dill in the crèmee fraiche. Loved the chunks of fresh asparagus and broad beans too.
4) Honey rolled beef Carpaccio, £9.95. This came a very close second to the black pudding, a wafer thin slice of tender beef (couldn’t pick out the honey taste) topped with Parmesan shavings, a sprinkling of wild rocket and a coated crispy ball of veal heart. I’d never had veal heart before, the meat was so rich and full that one ball was almost enough, almost!

On to the main course… As mentioned before the steaks looked fab as did a Tuttons 8oz homemade burger, £16.95, that I spied at the serving hatch. But unfortunately what we ordered didn’t hit the incredibly high standard set by the starters. But as a critic friend of ours once said ‘it’s difficult to get 11 out of 10 on everything’.

And this little piggy went to…

Saff ordered the Wicks Manor braised belly of pork served with puy lentils and caramelised razor russet apple £16.75 and a side order of Bubble & squeak, £3.50. She said that the pork wasn’t as ‘meaty’ as she would have liked it to be, nothing wrong with the quality or how it was cooked, the think layer of crackling was a nice change, it simply didn’t have the wow factor. It’s  summed up by the fact that the puy lentils and apples were the best part of the dish. The bubble could have maybe done with a little more seasoning too.

The veal was a champion hide and seeker!

Matchstick chips – shaken not stirred

I went for the Buckinghamshire veal wrapped in parma ham served with duck egg, lemon, sage & anchovy butter and matchstick chips £21.95 As the crispy veal heart dumpling was so good I thought I’d be onto a winner. The veal was good (once I found it under the mountain of dressed watercress), not as tender as I’ve had before but the parma ham and the free range duck egg added extra flavour and moisture to the meat. The lemon, sage & anchovy butter was delicious though and I used the matchstick chips, which weren’t really matchstick at all, to mop up every last drop. By the way, the chips tasted almost exactly like McDonald’s fries – and that’s not a bad thing!.

Auditions for the X factor went well for the rhubarb and custard tart

On to the desserts and again we had a tasting plate of four puddings and again the standard shot straight up to 11… This is what we had samples of:
1) The Yorkshire rhubarb and custard tart served with ginger & vanilla Chantilly cream £6.25. The ginger cut right the custard whilst the sharp rhubarb couldn’t have gone any better with the sweetness of the vanilla – too good!
2) I got a bonus serving of this Kentish raspberry cheesecake with biscuit crumb £6.50, as Saff is a cheese hater. I’m not usually a fan of deconstructed desserts, usually far too clever for their own good, but this worked! It was more of an Eton mess than a cheesecake with the raspberries, filling and biscuit base all ‘mixed’ together in one little lump of deliciousness.
3) The dark and white chocolate brownie served with chocolate sauce and Dorset clotted cream £6. A dense, moist chocolate brownie with a huge dollop of really, really thick clotted cream – traditional comfort food at its best.
4) Summer pudding trifle served with seasonal berries, vanilla custard and toasted almonds £5.95. Another traditional British dessert though it’s quite difficult to get a trifle wrong, I’m just glad that blackberries aren’t in season, the pips always get stuck in my teeth…

As we said our thank yous and goodbyes and wandered out into a still buzzing Covent Garden we noticed that the Dirty Martini cocktail bar next door has had a revamp too by the same people. You can hear the buzz of the place when you enter the maze underneath the restaurant that leads you to the toilets, and we’ve heard there’s a door into Dirty Martini down there too. I’ve been asked to be my best mates best man and this could be the ideal venue for a (civilized) stag do… I might have to give Hugh a call…

11/12 Russell Street, Covent Garden
London WC2B 5HZ

Telephone: 0844 371 2550
Email: reception@cgrestaurants.com

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Opening hours
Mon-Sun 8.00am-11.30pm
(12 midnight on Fri & Sat)

Closest tube stations: Covent Garden or Charing Cross