London Travels – The Coal Hole, Strand

Don’t let the name put you off in visiting this pub-restaurant. Home to a quiet cellar dining room, and some good fish and chips…

It has been a series of returning old faces in recent reviews. Last time, in visiting Southampton’s Piecaramba, we enjoyed the company of Connor Mackay. This time it was the turn of my former radio co-presenter and friend of nearly-six years, Dean Connor to join me. On two reviews, in this case.

I found The Coal Hole, the subject of this article, en route to one of my old favourite haunts, The Strand Palace Hotel. It’s actually a conversion of the coal cellar of the neighbouring Savoy Hotel (see entrance pictured), and the entrance is actually at the back of the building. They serve food upstairs and down, but the cellar dining room is where Dean and I decided we would have lunch. Its dim lighting, reinforced only slightly by candlelight, makes for a quiet, intimate setting. That, and the fact we were the only ones down there besides the waitress.

Ocean Fish & Chips – battered cod fillet pieces and wholetail scampi, served with chips and mushy peas

My first choice of a Grilled Fillet of Salmon (particularly attractive due to the Champagne and Thermidor Sauce) was sadly unavailable. I was adamant to have a fish dish, so up second was a plate of Ocean Fish & Chips (see pictured). It’s Fish & Chips and Scampi & Chips, all on the same plate. Ideal for a fish lover with simple tastes. Priced at £15.50 (still half-decent for London, given the portion size as well), with every dish sold, 50p goes to the RNLI.

The chips were phenomenal. Not exactly the standard of the hand-cut specimens I have enjoyed in nearby places like the Palm Court Brasserie in Covent Garden. But all the same, absolutely delicious. Furthermore, the cod pieces and scampi pieces were not over-inflated husks of batter and breadcrumbs. They were full of their respective meats and teeming with flavour.

Grilled Lamb Chops, served with herb-glazed baby potatoes, green beans, Bordelaise Sauce and fennel relish

As with the last meal Dean had with us, at the now-closed Osteria 60 in Kensington, he contented himself with some Grilled Lamb Chops (see pictured). The Bordelaise Sauce this came in was wonderfully rich. It complemented the succulent lamb pieces beautifully.

In all honesty, little can be said for atmosphere or ambience when you are the only diners. The popularity of this place is beyond a doubt. When we arrived, we first inspected the upstairs bar, but there were no free tables. The downstairs dining room is definitely more suitable a venue for a romantic evening meal. Given the candlelight and everything…