The 10 Cases, Ducksoup, Roti Chai
This autumn, restaurateurs at least seem to be doing their utmost to address the rise in London’s unemployment. Four big new restaurants, tallying 700 seats between them, should provide a good number of jobs to match.
By the time they all open at the end of November, the renovated Arts Club on Dover Street, Novikov on Albemarle Street, 34 (the “grill” sibling of Scott’s) off Grosvenor Square and The Delaunay on Aldwych should collectively create about 400 jobs. In addition these restaurants will be vying for the crucial pre-Christmas trade with the emerging Le Balcon on Pall Mall, chef Joel Antunes’ return to Mayfair at The Embassy Club and the third Hawksmoor steakhouse in the City of London.
The first four restaurants represent a considerable investment, probably close to £30m, on the part of their owners Arjun Waney, Arkady Novikov, Richard Caring and the duo Chris Corbin and Jeremy King respectively. But for those who prefer their restaurants on a more modest scale, here are three new openings that, I believe, are particularly worthy of attention.
The 10 Cases in Covent Garden and Ducksoup in Soho represent much lower investments – £500,000 and £300,000 – on the part of their younger owners. And in both instances half of those sums simply secured the premium to take over rather tired Italian restaurants from their previous owners.
The 10 Cases is the bistrot à vin Ian Campbell and Will Palmer have dreamt of running since they met at university (both are now 30). It looks the part, with tables on the pavement, glass folding doors and a simple interior with tables and barstools (there is also a private dining room in the basement).
Blackboards hanging from the walls chalk up the bar snacks and menu. Three dishes never change: a house salad, a whole lemon sole and a fillet of beef with foie gras. From the other blackboards, we enjoyed snails on toast, a fillet of stone bass, a Barnsley lamb chop and absolutely correct versions of crème caramel and a pear and almond tart.
But it is the wine that gives this place its sparkle. The policy is to buy no more than 10 cases of any wine – to maintain customer interest and to make their suppliers work harder, Palmer explained – and to concentrate on wines that they can sell for between £18 and £40.
Ducksoup is a partnership between Julian Biggs, Rory McCoy and Clare Lattin, a publicity manager whose mortgage secured the site and whose credit card financed the basic refurbishments. These are minimal in a slip of a building with a long bar and a few tables along the ground floor and basement. Its idiosyncratic design includes an old record player and a stack of vinyl. The drinks and wine lists, meanwhile, are written in black on white walls and feature “a Little Ron”– a third of a pint. (All the wines are available by the glass.)
Biggs, the trio’s chef, seems to be revelling in recreating dishes he has enjoyed on his travels: mackerel roe on toast from Scotland; a fritto misto from Venice; grilled lamb cutlets with lemon and salt as eaten in Spain; and quail with pomegranate, rosewater and tahini yoghurt from further east. All are served by McCoy wearing a foulard and plain white shirt that would not leave him looking out of place behind a Paris bar in the 1950s.
Rohit Chugh has spent probably more than double the investment required for 10 Cases and Ducksoup combined on Roti Chai but, more than two years in the planning, it occupies a much larger site near Selfridges. It will appeal instantly to those who have already enjoyed Dishoom in St Martin’s Lane with its humorous twist on the subcontinent’s street food. Chugh emulates this with dishes resonant of the food served on Indian trains in an era when he himself was growing up in England (and eating Indian food cooked by his mother).
The ground-floor menu includes a railway lamb curry; steamed rice cakes with a vegetable and lentil stew; vegetable samosas; papri chaat, moreish wheat crisps with chickpeas and a sweet chutney; and spiced chicken wings followed by mango kulfi, a combination that seems to be a tremendous lure for Indian children, their mothers and shoppers seeking an early supper.
The 10 Cases, Ducksoup and Roti Chai are very different from one another. But each reinforces London’s reputation as a city where the market is forcing price and value to be increasingly in harmony.
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The 10 cases
16 Endell Street, London WC2020 7836 6801, www.10cases.co.uk
41 Dean Street, London W10, 020 7287 4599, www.ducksoupsoho.co.uk
3 Portman Mews, South London W1, 020 7836 0101, www.rotichai.com