Noble Rot opened in Lamb’s Conduit Street in 2015, but as of the autumn of 2020 it has a little sister in Soho. The new branch occupies the Greek Street premises that formerly housed The Gay Hussar, an iconic London restaurant that had operated from 1953 right through to June 2018. It was a popular haunt amongst Labour politicians from Aneurin Bevan onwards, and assorted glitterati. These are big boots to fill but Noble Rot has an impressive pedigree, owned by wine lovers Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew, who operate a wine import business and since 2013 have published an excellent wine magazine, also called Noble Rot. The head chef at the Soho branch is Alex Jackson, who was formerly head chef of a restaurant called Sardine, and prior to that was head chef of Dock Kitchen. He is advised by Stephen Harris of The Sportsman. As well as the a la carte menu there was also a three-course set lunch at £22. The name, incidentally, refers to the elusive fungus (botrytis cinerea) that causes grapes to shrivel and concentrate their sweetness, and is the key to the making of all the world's really great dessert wines.
The wine list had 426 labels and ranged in price from £20 to £4,500, with a median price of £71 and an average markup to retail price of almost exactly 2 times, which is very fair indeed by restaurant standards in the UK, and a real bargain in London. Fully 53% of the list was under £75, and there were a dozen wines below £30. In terms of geographic coverage, 67% of the wines were from France, but there were interesting wines from Hungary, Chile, Greece and beyond. Sample references were Koehler-Ruprecht Riesling Trocken ‘Kallstadter’ 2018 at £36 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, the excellent Hatzidakis Assyrtiko ‘Familia’ 2018 at £53 compared to its retail price of £30, and E Sadie Grenache 'Soldaat' 2014 at £65 for a wine that will set you back £48 in the high street. For those with the means there was the great Chateau Palmer 1982 at £312, actually below its retail price of £367, and Penfold's Grange 1987 at £445 for a wine whose current market value is £426. Why other London restaurants can’t produce a wine list like this, that actually encourages wine enthusiasts, is beyond me. The list here is imaginative and very fairly priced, and is a real joy.
Bread was a choice of soda bread, red onion focaccia, both of which were made in house, and sourdough from the E5 Bakery. The breads all had good texture. I began with slip sole, which is a small Dover sole. This is a signature dish of The Sportsman and of the original Noble Rot. The fish was cooked carefully and its characteristic mild, buttery flavour came through nicely. The autumn truffle butter with it had little flavour, however. Autumn truffles have just a fraction of the scent of either true black truffles or white truffles, and cost corresponding less (13/20).
Roast chicken with rice pilaf, morels and vin jaune was the main course. The chicken was Cornish Red and was precisely cooked, avoiding dryness, resting in a well-made vin jaune sauce. It would be interesting to see the dish made with a higher-grade bird from France that has more flavour, such as a chicken from Landes or Bresse. The Turkish morels were, unsurprisingly given they were out of season, dried and, in truth, pretty ordinary, and distinctly lacking in flavour. This was a pity as the sauce was very good and the chicken was carefully cooked and had decent flavour, with reasonably crisp skin. I wonder whether using a mushroom that was in season right now, such as a Scottish girolle, would have improved the dish (just about 14/20).
A trio of cheeses featured Camembert, St Nectaire and Persille de Beaujolais from La Fromagerie, all in good condition. Armagnac baba was rather disappointing, flabby in texture, served with whipped cream. At least it avoided drying out, which is a common affliction with baba, but this was not only a pale imitation of the benchmark version at Louis XV, but was pretty ordinary even by UK standards (barely 11/20). My companion’s pear, hazelnut and rosemary tart, which I had a bite of, was significantly better.
Coffee was from Allpress, a New Zealand coffee merchant that dominates the high-end coffee trade in New Zealand (particularly in Auckland), and has been in London for several years. The bill came to £174 per person, most of which was wine. The star was the Maximin Grunhauser Abtbserg Grosse Gewachs Riesling 2018 (at £66 compared to its retail price of £24), which was quite a mouthful in more ways than one – a fabulous wine. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine from the excellent list, then a typical cost per person might be more like £75. Service was very good indeed. Noble Rot Soho is an enjoyable place at which to eat, especially if you are planning to indulge in a wine-dominated meal. The menu is quite appealing and the food, though for me not at the level of the original Noble Rot venue, was quite enjoyable other than my dessert. The wine list is a joy and the service was charming, so overall this was a nice experience. However, at this non-trivial price point it would good to see a higher level of consistency in the cooking of the dishes. Perhaps my expectations were too high because the cooking of Paul Weaver at the original Noble Rot had been so good, but I felt that there was room for improvement in the food here.