London Travels – The Gallery Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly

With some high-priced shopping goes some upmarket dining. Is this the kind of department store restaurant we could get used to…?

Visiting London without dropping by a renowned department store is a rare occurrence for me. In between possible theatre visits and, of course, numerous restaurants. I even managed to have some decent meal in one of the many eateries in Harrods when I was last there. But the visit that this review concerns was totally accidental.

I try to make a habit of visiting my old radio co-presenter and friend Dean Connor regularly. Our programme for the day usually follows the same formula. Pub crawl our way around London until we get hungry enough to stop for some lunch, then repeat until dinner, then start back towards Waterloo. We have ended up in the likes of Kensington and Pimlico in the past, but in this instance we ended up in Piccadilly. Which, incidentally, is home to Fortnum & Mason. We had already decided to go to a place called The Gallery Restaurant, but once we had reached the street it was allegedly on, we could not find it. And with Google Maps being as reliable as ever, we ended up finding our bearings in The Red Lion just around the corner. Not a very spacious pub, that.

It turns out that The Gallery is actually a restaurant on Fortnum & Mason’s ground floor — quite easy to find once we knew that. You may be thinking, “Why didn’t they go elsewhere?” but I was intent on going to this place for one key reason. They serve grouse.

If you’ll forgive the dreadful pun, I’ve been trying to “up my game” when it comes to my food choices on these reviews. And to have grouse, which is rare enough to find on a menu at the best of times, would fit that bill perfectly. There were two grouse dishes available, the cheaper of which (priced at a perfectly reasonable £16) was Roasted Grouse Breast with sautéed Morels and Blackberries.

What’s the bad news? It was out of stock, of course. A total rigmarole and rollercoaster of excitement and disappointment ensued when the waitress initially believed it was out of stock, then her colleague told her it was back in and then, after another five minutes, she came back saying her colleague had been mistaken. So, no grouse for me.

Whole Cornish Plaice with Brown Butter and steamed Spinach

So, onto Plan B – a Whole Cornish Plaice with Brown Butter (see pictured), armed with an optional side of steamed spinach — the fish only comes on its own with a salad garnish and a topping of shallots and capers. Totally attractive and all that, but by far inferior value in my opinion to some genuine grouse.

That all being said, it was by no means a disappointing piece of fish. It was not a chore to strip the meat away from the bones at all, with which often comes a risk of looking undignified when you are in a place as nice as Fortnum & Mason. The Brown Butter, which came separately to be poured at my leisure, was a helpful accompaniment for both texture and flavour, as was the spinach. The elements all came together and made for a half-decent second choice.

Since our trip to Kensington to review the now-closed Osteria 60, Dean has been employed in a bar in Epsom, over which course he has developed an understanding of wines. By comparison to two years ago, that is. Instead of saying, “It tastes like wine”, he will now say, “It tastes like Shiraz”. Two 175ml glasses of the Delaire Graff Shiraz accompanied our meals — almost as expensive as the food at nearly £10 per glass. I had chosen it when I believed it would go with my meat dish, but oddly enough it was a suitable enough pairing with my plaice. But then again, red wine has been accompanying fish since the days of King James VI and I, featuring in several recipes by Robert May, the celebrity chef of the time.

Prawn Linguine with Courgettes and Heritage Tomatoes

Dean’s own choice was seafood-based as well; namely Prawn Linguine with Courgettes and Heritage Tomatoes (see pictured). Available in both small and large sizes, from the look of things they did not appear to stint on the prawns. At a glance, the dish looked to be full of substance — there is a limit to how attractive a pasta dish can be made to look.

For somewhere as upmarket as Fortnum & Mason, one pictures a very formal atmosphere. In truth, its quite the opposite. Of course, you will get the businessmen in suits having their corporate lunches, but there is no dress code for the tourists. However, the service did fall short of my expectations — the grouse confusion aside, I felt the waiting staff were quite blasé with their attention to diners. The restaurant itself was not all that busy (several empty tables) and there were at least six waiters and waitresses. The length of time we took to be seen to between ordering, our food being delivered and then asking for the bill was hardly satisfactory. And unbecoming of a place with such a reputation.

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