London is full of historic streets, and indeed that is part of its fascination. Lamb’s Conduit Street is named after William Lambe, who paid for the rebuilding of a dam (conduit) in Holborn in 1577. The Noble Rot wine bar is a relatively newcomer, having been around since 1973, but situated in a 1700 era building. In late 2015 the place underwent a transformation and change of ownership. It is now run by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew, who founded the cult wine magazine Noble Rot. The dining room of the restaurant can seat up to around 55 people at one time, and there is an additional separate bar area. Paul Weaver, who worked at St John Bread & Wine and for five years at The Sportsman, now heads up the kitchen here, though he was not working at this particular service. He has consulting assistance from the estimable Stephen Harris, chef/owner of The Sportsman.
The wine list is organised by a mix of geography and grapes, starting at £23 and working up to £1,575 for Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques 1985 (whos current market price is £1,362). Examples were Quinta Milu 2014 at £26 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £10, the lovely JJ Prum Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2012 at £53 compared to a retail price of £19, and Droin Chablis Grand Cru ‘Blanchot’ 2010 at £75 for a wine that will set you back £38 in a shop. The list is well thought through and it is nice to see some of the grander wines at very modest mark-ups. Latour 2002, a star wine in a medicore vintage, is £414 here yet retails at £353 for example. To show how kindly this is in London, the Latour 2004, which retails at virtually the same price, is currently £1,100 on the list at Marcus Wareing.
The menu is quite short and changes regularly, with starters ranging from £8 to £12, main courses £14 to £23 and desserts £7.50 to £8. There are no sneaky extras for vegetable side dishes, though a plate of bread is charged separately at £4. This might seem a little steep until you taste the glorious focaccia, made from scratch, as was very good soda bread, alongside the peerless sourdough from Hedone.
A slip sole is a baby Dover sole, and this with seaweed butter is the signature dish of The Sportsman. Here it is given a twist by using smoked butter and paprika, which worked very well, adding a pleasing flavour note. With such a simple dish timing is everything, and the cooking here was spot on: a lovely example of precise fish cookery, the sole tasting glorious (easily 16/20).
Mallard with hispi cabbage and pieces of Alsace bacon was also very enjoyable, the meat lightly cooked and full of flavour. For me the cabbage could have been cooked a touch less and the seasoning might have been a little more pronounced, but these are minor quibbles (14/20).
I finished with an excellent apple and hazelnut tart, the apple sharp enough, the hazelnuts adding a pleasing textural contrast, the pastry good (15/20). Coffee was sourced from Colombia from a brand called Workshop, and was excellent, though it wouldn’t have hurt for them to throw in the second espresso given the miniscule size of the cup and the considerable profit margin of the coffee. Service was friendly and the waiters I encountered seemed enthusiastic and helpful.
The bill for lunch, with just water to drink, came to £47 per person. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head would be around £65. I really enjoyed Noble Rot: it has a menu that is appealing, uses good quality produce, the staff are welcoming and the wine list is fairly priced. This is the kind of food I could happily eat every day.