The Dean Street Town House is the latest in the Soho House family: part hotel, part private club, part bistro, along with High Road House in Chiswick, Soho House in Portman Square (and Manhattan), with even a branch in Shoreditch. Owned primarily now by Richard Caring (Caprice Holdings (with founder Nick Jones still having a 20% stake), these places share an extraordinary knack of offering what customers want from a simple restaurant: an appealing menu and a relaxed atmosphere, which sounds so basic, yet how many restaurants manage this? The Dean Street Town House has an unpromising setting in many ways with its low-ceilinged room, but makes the most of it with plenty of outside tables, banquette seating and a clubby feel to the place with its green walls and prints.
The menu is the very definition of comfort food. What was the last time you saw a menu with a main course of mince? There is also Scotch egg, macaroni cheese, sausage roll and indeed just about everything a person of a certain age could wish for if they recall a certain version of their childhood (my grandmother used to make mince by hand every week for lunch). Starters are mostly around £8, main courses £16, side dishes £4 and desserts £6.
The two page wine list skips around the nationalities, and has kinder mark-ups at the high end of the list than at the low end. The pleasant Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio 2009 was £29 for a wine that you can buy for £8 in the shops, Saumaize-Michelin Sauvigon Blanc 2007 was £56 for a wine that costs £18 retail, while Antinori Tignanello 2006 was £125 for a wine you can find for around £52.
I began with a salad of Dorset crab with good leaves of chicory and fennel with a little ruby grapefruit to provide acidity. The crab was fine if not that generous, but this was certainly pleasant (13/20). The best starter by far was twice baked haddock soufflé, which was around 15/20 level, while herb roasted salmon on toast with crushed broad beans had fairly tasteless salmon (12/20) and a chopped salad with prawns had pleasant leaves but ordinary prawns.
My main course of corn-fed chicken was cooked nicely to my taste (perhaps a fraction longer than some would like) and served with picked girolles and properly podded broad beans (13/20). Fish and chips with marrowfat peas was a little less good, the chips double cooked and so rather soggy in the centre, while salt beef with caraway dumplings was an out an out disaster: soggy dumplings and salt beef without the fat that is, after all, what delivers the flavour. However I was charmed by the “mince and potatoes”, which was exactly as described, very simple yet nicely seasoned and made with better quality meat that my grandmother ever used; with some peas and carrots on the side this was definitely a taste of superior home cooking. My sherry trifle had a layer of sponge so thin I initially thought it was missing (11/20), but much better was a rich baked chocolate mousse with raspberry sorbet (comfortably 14/20 level).
Service was oddly inept for a Soho House venture. We were seated near the waiter’s station, so it was hard not to notice the dishes being dropped and the staff bitching at one another under their breath (and in the case of the manager and junior manager, just going at it hammer and tongs, customers be damned). Topping up was notional and in one case an ordered wine was “off”, but we only discovered this after the relevant course had arrived. Some requested bread was about to be set at our table by a waiter before being intercepted in mid air by a manager and whisked away to a presumably better-connected table, leaving the waiter empty handed in front of us, only able to give a sheepish shrug. This level of service would shame an East End pub.
Despite the service problems and the £75 a head bill (we did have a fair bit of wine) it was hard to dislike The Dean Street Town House. I think the key is the immensely appealing menu – they even offer tea and cakes in the afternoon - and the simple attractive decor. At the end I still had a warm, pleasant impression of the place, despite the staff behaving like the Montagues and Capulets in front of us.
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