‘Pigsy’ - a title derived from his own and not, disappointingly, from his tendency to lip-sync and carry a sharpened hoe - moves in circles and is a player in an industry that I will never begin to understand. Happily for the Hymnal, the bloke’s aptitude for business is matched if not exceeded by a propensity to climb on one at the drop of a hat. Just last weekend he diverted 100 miles out of his way to tag on to a low-key soiree that snowballed into a 3am poker tournament sponsored by Maker’s Mark. He was in Stoke Poges by 9am that same morning having a breakfast of bhajis at a Sikh-Hindu wedding. And somehow, although he sponsored this evening - one where I not only got to pick a venue, the food and the wine, stay over and come out the other side with a new laptop - he retains a capacity to convince it’s you that’s done him a turn, as if loafing around his palatial Bermondsey bolt-hole waiting for a cross-trainer to be delivered is a worthy trade-off. He’s priceless. No, literally - he is priceless.
Ahead of our reservation we meet for cocktails at the Mayfair Bar, part of the Mayfair hotel. Typically, Pigsy knows the General Manager and credits him with every superior aesthetic detail. The toilets are a must-see, apparently, and it’s true they’re so lavishly appointed that despite an increasing urge I haven’t the heart to ‘go’. Two expertly-crafted mojitos down and suitably demoralised by the ethereal beauty of all around us, we slalom up Shaftesbury towards dinner.
As I’ve intimated, and as you might have seen, there’s not a prevalent publication that hasn’t had a snout at Dean Street Townhouse in the last month. The concept as far as the food is concerned is indisputably British and the menu is mostly and reassuringly wholesome and earthy. While also a hotel the dining room has a distinct and deliberate feel of a pub about it, it’s Georgian features really nicely enhanced by the checkerboard tiling and red leather, and it’s rammed almost to the point it looks untidy. Our feted concierge having failed miserably to secure us the booking discussed in the previous entry – Pigsy’s on the warpath – and after a couple of slightly uncomfortable minutes while she checked and checked again, our hostess nevertheless confidently assured us this wouldn’t be a problem and we were seated within five. Tables are close to one another but, arranged in rows as they are in parts, this affords the management to be flexible with their layout and in this instance, to create space for two more.
Truth be told, what we ate wasn’t up to much. Scallops in the half shell with wild boar and ramsons (£10.50 for a pair) were, in context, affected, and ever so slightly overcooked. Wild rabbit, black pudding and scotch quail egg salad (£9.75) was tasty but as thin on the ground as the scallops when it came to value. Pigsy’s pie (£14), a Chicken Leek and Wild Mushroom number, came with a novelty blackbird funneling steam out the top and nothing else bar a boat of buttery sauce. Blythburgh pork t-bone, champ and buttered carrots was £18 and, given where we were, went just about far enough to justify it but the side of buttered greens, at £3.75, took the piss. It took until dessert for them to excel themselves; Trinity burnt cream (£5.25) was outstanding. You would, however, expect nothing less of place specialising in the classics.
Butcombe bitter was the ale of choice and drank well out of a jug. Lager in a similar receptacle, to me, isn’t right. Service, after the polite efficiency of the lady on the door, was fine if so-so in terms of personality. Granted, it was getting late, but if you’re going to push on through you need the stamina, or to rota ergonomically, in order to account for it. I read somewhere, I forget where, in regard to the service that ’these boys don’t make mistakes’. It’s as well because they were dour, uncommunicative and devoid of a charm that would deflect attention from any cause you might have for complaint.
More than just a nostalgic riposte to a recession, the food model is an extension of a definite current trend to take it home in terms of style. An old-school, no frills formula set to remind us that the old ones are the best and that British food, while it’s not pretty, is gutsy and has balls. In this spirit its incarnation at Dean Street, where appropriately utilitarian in content, represents shoddy value for money. Rib Steak at £27? Too much. Mince and Potatoes, by comparison, far too little not to doubt that at these margins its constituents will be even more base than they appear. Portions, with the exception of the burnt cream -..yes, I gather it’s a creme brulee but if you feel compelled to confirm it even after I’ve ordered, you should probably just relax your theme and stipulate as much - are modest. Pigsy was happy with the bill, but then he entertains clients at Nobu.
We repaired to the subterranean havoc of The Arts Theatre Club to digest. What a find. If I have it right, and going on the intermittent quality of the karaoke, this is where the bit-parters come once they’ve scraped the stage make-up off their face. By turns, it’s like seeing a west-end show for free. There’s also the spectacle of CBBC’s ‘Little Cook’ making a hash of ‘The Power of Love’ while leathered teenagers stumble over my shoes and look up, cross-eyed, to apologise. And there’s carpet on the ceiling. If you go to any of these places, go here; it’s class.
BarnYard, you’re a diamond, son. Here’s to the first of many…
The Arts Theatre Club, 50 Frith Street, London W1D 4SQ 020 7287 9236