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The Don

The Courtyard, St Swithin's Lane, London, EC4N 8AD, United Kingdom

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This restaurant, open for around twelve years, has its entrance tucked away in a courtyard quite near Cannon Street station. The building was, from 1798, the cellar for Sandeman’s port, a company still in family ownership. The restaurant name refers to the venerable logo of the company, a caped figure drawn way back in 1928 and known as “The Don”. The restaurant is the younger sister of The Bleeding Heart.

As well as the main Don restaurant, the building contains a separate bistro and also private dining rooms, including a mediaeval cellar. In the dining room there are several shelves of wine, and indeed the wine (and port) list is quite interesting, with over 400 labels on offer, starting at £24 and ranging up to £1,400. It was nice to see a list in central London with many choices under £30. Vintage ports go back to 1941. Example wines were Hugel Riesling 2013 at £32 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for around £19, Meerlust Chardonnay at £45 compared to its retail price of £18, and Andrea Oberto Vigneto Albarella Barolo 2011 for £99 for a wine that will set you back £41 in a shop. Further up the lists were choices such as Chateau Haut-Batailley 1990 at £195 compared to its retail price of £78, and Jean Louis Chave 2000 at £325 for a bottle that sells for £222 in a shop. The relative bargain of the list was perhaps the Coche-Dury Meursault 1996 at £395, given that its current market value is £641.

We opted for the three course set lunch menu at £32, but there was also an a la carte selection, with starters £12.50 to £17.50, mains £26 to £32, side dishes at £4 and desserts at £7. The head chef since June 2017 has been Frederick Forster, Roux Scholar in 2000 who had previously worked as head chef of Pont de la Tour. The bread here was supplied from sister restaurant the Bleeding Heart and the brown, white and olive rolls had good texture (13/20).

Flame grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber was carefully cooked and had pleasnt flavour, the pickling juices of the cucumber working well with the oily fish (13/20). Chicken and wild mushroom presse with pata negra ham came with gribiche sauce (made with eggs, mustard, capers and cornichons) and toasted sourdough bread. This was a simple but enjoyable dish, the sharpness of the gribiche working well with the meat (13/20).

The best dish was braised collar of pork with flageolet bean cassoulet, Morteau sausages and marjoram. The pork had plenty of flavour and the cassoulet was a hearty accompaniment, the seasoning accurate (14/20). On the side was capably cooked broccoli and also Jersey Royal potatoes (13/20).

For dessert, crème brulee was nicely made, though perhaps it could have had a bit nore vanilla flavour (13/20). Chocolate cremeux was suitably rich, balanced by some raspberries and a separate crumble (13/20). Coffee was the ubiquitous Musetti, which was a steep £4.50 for a double espresso. At this price they could certainly afford to source better coffee. 

Service was attentive and professional. The bill for lunch, with just water to drink, came to just £34. If you ordered from a la carte and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might come to around £75. I rather enjoyed The Don, with its simple but appealing menu, capable cooking and carefully chosen and fairly priced wines. You can eat a great deal worse in this part of the world.

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