The Principal Hotel, 8 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5BE, United Kingdom

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Neptune opened in May 2018, in the newly opened Principal Hotel overlooking Russell Square. The chef is Brett Redman, who previously worked at the Richmond in Hackney, Eliot’s Café and Jidori in Dalston. Being a seafood restaurant, the name is a reference to the Roman god of the sea. The large dining room has an oyster bar in the centre, with tables arrayed around tall marble pillars. The dining room seats 110 guests at any one time, so this is a large operation. 

The wine list was put together by Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron. It is skewed towards natural, or “low intervention” wines and had a whole section of orange wines, which have spent time in contact with grape skins. For those of us who prefer their wines unnatural, the corkage at £25 is quite modest. The list started at £24 and featured labels such as Reyneke Sauvignon Blanc 2017 at £34 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £13, Envinate Taganan Bianco 2016 at £49 compared to its retail price of £25, and A Tribute to Grace 2015 at £79 for a wine that will set you back £30 in a shop. There were a few posher wines too, such as Stella di Compalto Podere Rosso di Montalcino 2013 at £140 compared to its retail price of £54, and Olivier Jouan Charmes Chambertin 2009 at £225 for a wine whose current market price is £95. The list had the odd minor labelling issue, such as its “Jobard Meursault Charmes 2010”. This could be either Francois et Anton Jobard or Remi Jobard or even Emile Jobard, all of which produce Meursault Charmes, the latter being a third cheaper than the others.

Soda bread was made in the kitchen and charged for, the texture being reasonable but not comparing well to the soda bread at Dysart or Parlour (13/20). Chowder of smoked eel (£12) came with quails eggs and curry butter. The eel was fine and the quail eggs went well with the eel. I found the curry flavour to be rather indistinct, though the overall effect was pleasant enough (13/20). 

A pair of fairly small hand-dived scallops (£16) were served in their shell with a sauce of pea and kaffir lime butter. The scallops were cooked well enough and had some level of natural sweetness, though serving the roe as well to bulk them out seemed misguided to me. What did work well was the butter, with the kaffir lime having enough sharpness to cut through the butter and pair well with the scallops (13/20). Turbot (£28) was from a large 7.5 kg specimen and served with broad beans, courgettes and an olive oil hollandaise. The fish had good flavour and was cooked quite well, the beans being fine but the hollandaise lacking the hint of sharpness that it should possess from the lemon used to make it (13/20).

Monkfish (£23) came with capers, leeks and brown butter with chicken sauce. The monkfish was cooked quite well and had nice flavour, and the chicken stock gave some depth to the sauce. The only minor issue was that the leeks were rather overcooked, but the capers worked well and overall this was a nice dish (14/20). On the side, chips were excellent, made from scratch in the kitchen and cooked in dripping, being nicely crisp on the outside (15/20). By contrast, Cornish Mid new potatoes with dulse butter were entirely unseasoned, and there was a very small pool of the butter at the bottom of the bowl, the result being bland potatoes (11/20).

For dessert, citrus tart (£7) had quite good pastry, though the filling did not have quite enough lemon in it for me (13/20). Millefeuille (£7) had quite good crème patissiere but pastry that was erring on the soggy side, with pleasant rhubarb and strawberries on the side (12/20). Coffee was from Square Mile and was excellent.

Service started off well enough, led by a young manager from Yorkshire who had previously worked at Dabbous. However not all the staff were to that level, and two dishes were brought to the table with a bewildered “who ordered what?”, which is pretty poor for a restaurant at this price point. Moreover, wine topping up was erratic and it was hard to get attention to get extra water or, as turned out to be necessary, salt. If a service team cannot keep an eye on wine topping up then they should just leave the wine on the table so the customer can do it themselves, rather than tucking it away behind a pillar and then playing hide and seek with the customers when they try and catch a waiter’s eye. Staff all seemed well meaning enough and the service was quite busy, but things should have been much slicker. The bill came to £78 a head with corkage and including service. If you ordered a modest bottle from the wine list then a typical cost per head with water and coffee might come to around £80. To be honest that seems quite a lot given the pleasant but hardly dazzling food, and rather lacklustre service.

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