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db Eats: Kettner’s

Set in the heart of Soho, even the walk up to Kettner’s feels like the start of a good night out.

As with any place with such history and reputation, there’s a fair amount hanging on the first impression on walking in, and happily, the reception at Kettner’s is warm and attentive, and exactly what you’d expect from such a restaurant.

There’s a sense of excitement as you enter the dining room; the dimmed (but still practical) lighting, the glint of gilding on the mirrors on the walls, other diners in their finery… The fact that it was a balmy Saturday night in May probably helped.

We were sat in a corner looking out over the secondary dining room, in what felt like a surprisingly intimate setting, given the high volume of people and the large windows looking out onto the busy Greek Street behind me. No sooner had we sat down were we accosted by an extremely enthusiastic waiter who brought us the menus. We decided on a glass of English sparkling Gusborne Blanc de Blancs to start (it felt fitting, what with Kettner’s association with all things Champagne, coupled with its (in)famous English historic patrons), which was brought to us by another incredibly upbeat waiter, but not before yet another one had come and asked, amid the beaming smiles, if everything was ok and if we’d like to order.

By the time we ordered, we were onto our fourth waiter (who remained with us for the rest of the night). Not that it was in any way unpleasant, or that any of the waiters were anything other than perfectly friendly and welcoming, it was just a little overwhelming to be accosted by what seemed like a large proportion of the floor staff in a remarkably short space of time.

I opted for the Severn and Wye smoked salmon on a potato pancake with dill to start with a glass of 2010 Brigit Eichinger Gruner Veltiner which was beautifully fresh with the dill, and balanced the fatty salmon admirably, while my dining companion made a bee line for the oysters, with a 2009 ‘Esprit des Lieux’ Mâcon Villages, both from the off the by-the-glass menu. The wine menu, while concise almost to the point of lacking in variety, offered a decent range of styles and all the wines on it looked appealing. The food was generous in portion size, and the salmon was flavoursome and balanced richness with freshness well. I have it on good authority that the oysters were also excellent.

The quality was maintained through to the main course, which saw pork belly with caramelised apple and sage mash for me, and Pollock with creamed cabbage and smoked bacon with artichoke for my plus one. The pork was matched with a glass of 2007 Australian Shiraz Viognier from Yering Station (not from the by-the-glass menu), and a glass of Peter Lehmann’s 2009 Chardonnay with the Pollock. The pork fat was very crispy without the meat having dried out, and the caramelised apple added a nice touch of fruitiness, although could have packed more of a punch for effect. The Pollock had a good texture and a lovely sauce, but didn’t set my taste buds on fire (but I find it hard to get excited about Pollock), but my plus one was very pleased with it.

The portions spot on – even though I didn’t finish the mash that accompanied my pork, I was pleasantly sated and keen to sit a while before dessert and watch the by now packed restaurant and the increasing levels of joviality of the diners, indicated by the gradual increase of the ambient noise levels, drowning out the live piano in the neighbouring dining room.

Dessert brought a crème brulée for me and a house mango sorbet for my guest, accompanied by a couple of stickies, La Fleur d’Or Sauternes and Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas 1998 respectively, the Sauternes pleasingly clean and lively, and the Port rich and luxurious. A coffee and a cognac later, and we were ready for the Champagne bar.

The Champagne bar is for many the main appeal of Kettner’s. The selection on offer is very impressive almost to the point of bewilderment. We settled down with a glass of Billecart Salmon and a Baron de Marck – both of which were really crisp after the fortifieds, especially the mouth-watering Billecart Salmon. The one drawback of bar is the sophisticated decadence of the dining room doesn’t seem to extend fully to the Champagne bar and, unless you book one of the lovely intimate nooks beforehand, you end up sitting on poufs, rather than reclining in plush armchairs which would be more fitting and do better justice to the fabulous array of sparklers behind the bar.

The food menu did not have me aquiver with excitement or in the throes of the agony of decision – rather the options were, like the by-the-glass list, thorough in variety for different types of eaters (steak, fish cakes, duck confit and a Kettner’s burger), but that’s not where the beauty of the place lies – it is its dependability and the atmosphere. I had high expectations for the evening (and the Champagne), rather than the food at Kettner’s, and was delighted to have them reached on all counts. Kettner’s feels like the right way to start an evening, and walking out into buzzing Soho after the perfectly sized portions of food, and generous dose of Champagne (if you’ve made the most of the bar’s selection) make you feel pleasantly prepared for a night out on the town. That is if you haven’t overdone things in the Champagne bar beforehand.


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