This last ten days has felt a violent ten days for London. First of all, there was the heretic-burning issue of Guy Fawkes night, the fireworks of which I was lucky enough to see from an aeroplane. The air is full of the scent of explosive powder and dead leaves. Then, as if to add insult to being blown up, there was the padded and somewhat highly-strung tone of Remembrance Sunday. On my default radio station, Absolute Radio 90s, they marked the two minutes of silence by producing what sounded like two minutes of traffic. Therefore, those of us listening to the radio would know the radio station was actually working and our digital radios weren’t broken. However, the decision to have two minutes of some noise in order to mark two minutes of silence appeared somewhat counter-productive. After that, AbsoluteRadio 90s pulled us back into their pre-Blair era nostalgia orbit by playing U2’s “One”. This was an odd choice; perhaps it would have been better to have a song called “Eleven”, or “Eleven A.M., Eleven, Eleven”.
On arrival back in England, Mr Bluebird and I had dinner at Andrew Edmunds, in Lexington Street. There is a strangeness to my discovery of Andrew Edmunds. The previous Tuesday, I had been walking down Lexington Street, enjoying its feature of four excellent restaurants – Cafe Mildred, Aurora, the Catalan-inspired Fernandez & Wells and the startlingly charming (as yet untried by me) delicate French cafe of Cafe Gourmand – when my eyes were drawn by something that was about 250 years old. Andrew Edmunds is a print and art shop, and next door, the tiniest restaurant in Soho. Its walls are as bruised and brown as if they have been steeped in English Breakfast tea. But there the Englishness seems to end. There is a dark, painted door jostling against two tiny dark painted window frames and within a cluttered smattering of dripping candles and tiny wee tables topped with small jugs of wild flowers, all of which screams Parisienne. The whole front of the restaurant cannot be more than 10 feet, its tiny-ness adding to the slightly unreal, magical feel of the place, as if fairies had placed it there during the night which, given the fact it’s been there since 1988 and I hadn’t spotted it before, could be quite possible. The menu, which seems to change daily, looked brisk and filling, in a good, solid, old-fashioned way from inside its glass frame to the right of the front door. It seemed sure of itself. A menu that is sure of itself makes the customer feel just as sure, and before I knew what I was doing, me – little old – read-50-reviews-on-Trip-Advisor-before-you-go-near-the-place me, had walked in and booked a table for a week ahead.
Lexington Street holds itself up as the new, innovative dining centre of Soho. Whilst Greek and Frith and Dean Streets take the focus and a lot of the glamour, Lexington Street is really where it’s at. After 7pm you cannot move in any of the four bars / eateries mentioned above. Mildred’s, at No 45, has been serving inspiring vegetarian food since the late 80s and is still going very strong, but Fernandez & Wells has to be my personal favourite. I love its pared-back, washed wall feel. It’s a Barcelona-style wine and tapas bar with simple grandeur. It’s a restaurant with the bricks peeled back, and if you’re lucky enough to get a stool at the counter (which, surprisingly, I was) a perfect location for a pre-supper glass of excellent Spanish red. I only risked being slightly upstaged by the vast, seasonal bowl full of orange and green pumpkins on the countertop.
When I started to mention Andrew Edmunds to people, throughout the week, the replies came back always as “Oh, yes… I know it. I went there twenty years ago.” Or, “Oh, yes. Is it still there?” I later found out it has been in Lexington Street for twenty five years, and that it is known for its vast and excellent value wine list. The night we went was one of those nights where London pushes you indoors and away from the elements ; foggy, damp, intolerant. Ducking into the warmth and eighteenth century prints of Andrew Edmunds had never seemed so appropriate, with the condensation muggily steaming up the windows and November getting the better of us whilst the kitchen served a solid round of traditional foods.
Our table was in a cosy corner, appropriately enough next to tiny wooden banquette in which two Frenchman were installed, happily lingering over the end of a carafe of something divine and fruit from the Burgundy. The menu was straightforward – I started with the chicken liver pate with brioche and then had lemon sole with halved, cheery new potatoes and a green salad. The chicken liver starter was almost enough as a meal in itself. Is it me, or are starters always the most satisying part of any meal? Mr Bluebird went for a deeply autumnal warming soup which he pronounced as divine and then headed for a lamb shank, which sat on a bed of mashed potato and swede. My lemon sole was fabulous, a gutsy, benevolent fish, the lemon sole – although mine appeared to be the biggest from the sea. It was so big that I couldn’t manage my potatoes, and Mr Bluebird’s lamb shank, which he loved, was also so big that when he announced after 20 minutes of solidly eating it that he had had enough, I struggled to tell from looking at it whether he had eaten anything at all. Bearing in mind the grand size of the dishes, the price of the food was exceptionally good value. The half bottles of good French red (in my case) and white (in his) came and went and tasted fabulous. I’m sorry that I have forgotten what label mine was. Puddings were as warming and luxurious as you would expect from a traditional English menu. I went for treacle tart with vanilla ice cream and Mr Bluebird opted for Damson and Sloe Gin ice cream. His, he announced, tasted as if it came from a three hundred year old recipe, deep with autumn fruits and the sense of seasons much visited over the years. It was devastatingly purple, but again – he couldn’t find room to finish it. My treacle tart was a riot of gorgeous, sticky tart-iness, over an inch high and sitting next to a vanilla-flecked round of ice cream but it pains me to say I had to leave some of it on my plate. The service was light, professional and relaxed. This is a restaurant that knows exactly what it is doing and exactly how to do it in cosily elegant surroundings.
After the double espresso, which I felt was vital in order to get my heavy, over-fed body to walk to Tottenham Court Road tube station, it was a pleasure to linger in Andrew Edmunds. There is no music, there is only the low grade hum of other diners on the other seven, small tables around us. For three courses,each, two half bottles of wine, one cocktail and two double espressos, the total bill, including service, was only £100. There is something of the warm, old comfort in Andrew Edmunds. My advice would be go there : go there for a late lunch in order to recover from the hazards of West End Christmas shopping, go there for an intimate supper – but do not order three courses. Unless you have a gargantuan appetite you will not be able to eat all of them, although the lack of pretension and friendliness in the restaurant tells me that they probably wouldn’t mind if you asked to take some of your pudding home with you. Do also be aware that bookings are only taken eight days in advance too, a refreshingly biblical number of days but there you go. This is an old Soho stalwart, one that has taken me too long to discover and one that I hope survives in the changing scenery of Soho for a long time to come.
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