Pickling Time* | 1 Leicester Street, London WC2H 7BL
If we told you the invite said something along the lines of ‘come to a hotel restaurant, stand at the pass and listen to a bloke talk about pickles’, then you’d probably think meh! Whatever! BUT and this is a big but, hence the capital letters. If we told you the hotel is One Leicester Street (formally St John) and the pass at which we stood belonged to Michelin-starred chef Tom Harris and these were his pickles and preserves, then you’ll understand why we jumped at the chance to go.
This wasn’t the half of it, before we ate we were treated to a couple of ‘libations’ or liquid offerings at the Talented Mr Fox which has taken up residency on the first floor. The man working his magic behind the bar is Matt Whiley, co-founder of the Purl bar and Worship Street Whistling Shop in Shoreditch. Matt takes inspiration from history yet uses ultra modern techniques to create these fascinating cocktails – apparently the room behind the bar is like a scientist’s laboratory. A couple of drinks on the list caught our eye, Liquid History £80, purely because of its price. Urban Fox £11, because it’s served in a miniature wheelie bin. And Young Dog New Tricks £POA, because my dad always says ‘if you have to ask for the price then you can’t afford it…’
I’ll briefly whizz through the decor of the bar and restaurant. Set in a Georgian townhouse with fifteen rooms (or minimalist sanctuaries) featuring styling from the Universal Design Studio, who also worked on the new Ace hotel in Shoreditch. This paired back contemporary interior also extends to the bar, dark warm grey walls, low lighting and black carpets make the space feel luxurious yet welcoming and cosy. Again the ground floor restaurant is similarly styled, the colours are lighter but the simplicity the same. Leicester Square is not renowned for an array of good quality restaurants so this really is a gem.
We first saw Tom Harris stood in his open kitchen partially obscured by a range of jars and bottles. For a Michelin starred chef Tom was so down to earth (not that we’ve actually spoke to that many Michelin starred chefs) a cheeky chap with a real passion and drive. Pickled fruits and veg has become a bit of an obsession for him and they are the base ingredient in many of his dishes. Tom and his team make/bake/cure/prepare everything from scratch and he has a real pride in training up his staff to the highest possible standard. The rolled pork belly and tongue ham he showed us looked fantastic.
It tasted fantastic too! The Middlewhite belly and tongue ham (1), to give it its proper title, was incredible, the sour pickled cabbage was the perfect foil for the pork. Next up was a delicate and surprisingly light Pig’s cheek ham (2) served on in-house baked bread with celeriac and mustard, this was my favourite savoury dish and I know I took more than my fair quota from the sharing plate placed in front of us.
Now were not usually big fans of tartare but the Raw Dexter served with crunchy pickles and rye crackers (3) has changed our minds. Again the quality of the ingredients and the attention to detail whilst preparing these dishes really shone through. A close second to the pig’s cheek ham was the thinly sliced Smoked duck ham and quince (4) wrapped around chunks of candied quince, drizzled in honey.
Saff’s favourite dish were the Devilled mussels with sea aster cooked in cider (5), I only managed to get my hands on one of these delicious little fellas. But from what I tasted I understood why Saff was guarding the bowl so aggressively! That said I already had my eye on the next course… The cheese course (6) – three quality British cheeses, Old Ford served with honeycomb and water biscuits, St Jude served with pickled fennel and those thin crispy rye crackers. And my favourite the Colston Basset, a subtle blue cheese served with pickled crap apples and probably the best oat biscuit I’ve ever tasted. As a bonus we had a big dollop of damson preserve, I was so tempted to scoop it up for my morning toast. Who know crab apples tasted so good, Saff remembers them purely from her pet dog Badger, munching a whole load of them when she was little, with rather unpleasant results.
Now the dish that drew the most oooohs and aaaahs was the Brown butter and honey tart. One of our fellow diners, Clerkenwell Boy, had apparently spent months pestering Tom to get it back on the menu. This tart is a real show stopper, all the cameras came out, it was like the paparazzi snapping away at Lady GaGa (not that she’s a tart!). They even videoed the tart’s ‘wobble factor’ and what a wobble it was. How it held its shape whilst being cut is the work of the dark arts. For as soon as the filling sat on your tongue it simply dissolved, magic indeed. It was sweet and rich but not it the slightest bit sickly, buttery yet with that ‘burnt’ flavour of caramelised sugar.
This taster session is a wonderful snapshot of Tom’s abilities and of what One Leicester Street has to offer. As mentioned before, we were lucky to be treated to this experience but most, if not all of these dishes can be found on the menu. We wandered out onto Leicester Square with a full belly and a happy heart only to be faced with the hubbub of tourists, we just wanted to turn back to the calm sanctuary from where we’d just come. Ideally into one of the hotel’s stunning ‘post-supper rooms‘, but unfortunately we didn’t have a spare £197.40.*Shamelessly taken from Trevor & Simon’s catchphrase on Pickling Time with Pickling Jeff on Going Live (I’m really showing my age now). [Yes you very much are, I have no idea what you're talking about - Saff]
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 8-11am (Sat -12N) 1-3.30pm (Sun -4pm) 5.30-11pm
Nearest tube: Leicester Square