By Jonathan Byrne
Escaping a rainy dark early April Friday evening, Richard and I snuck into the recently reopened Kettner’s Townhouse to find a warm cocoon welcome and a richer more luxurious Kettner’s. Rules is the oldest restaurant in London with records back to 1840’s and claims to the late 1790’s. Kettner’s must come a close second oldest founded in 1867.
Kettner’s, in the heart of Victorian and Edwardian sordid Soho, has a scandalous history. Edward VII and Lillie Langtry kept each other entertained at Kettner’s and it’s reputed to have been Oscar Wilde’s favourite restaurant. I was first introduced to Kettner’s in the early 1980’s and continued to enjoy the delights of the Champagne Bar and main Restaurant until it closed two years ago. During this period it still had charm although the decor was faded, the menu not always inspirational and the service could be dismissive.
Those inspired restaurateurs of The Soho House Group have reinvigorated the grand if tired stalwart with an engaging and smart new place to enjoy Soho’s resurgence. It was early evening on a Friday and the website claimed no tables available until after nine. However we breezed in at seven to be charmed by the front of house staff who appeared to genuinely want to make us feel welcome and find somewhere for us to dine. Tables in the main restaurant were full but places were cleared at the bar, covers set for us and we were offered the full menu. Once we had ordered we were given a tour.
The circular Champagne bar remains though the lounge area beyond the bar now leads down to basement cloakrooms and connects to a reception desk for the Townhouse bedrooms. The bar is much extended with a vast display of spirits and fortified wines. I’m sure they have claimed more space than was there before and the restaurant extends along the lower end of Greek Street. The decor has a fresh warm feeling of real luxury enveloping you in style and elegance. Well done with the service and ambience.
The menu does not feature anything wildly exciting but the assurance of bistro style dishes that have been tried and tested for many years and will never fail to please. After a late lunch Richard was not famished so chose a timbale salad of light tasty Devon crab on celeriac remoulade dressed with russet apple followed by a dozen Carlingford rock oysters. The gusto with which he devoured the dishes confirmed his thoughts that all was delicious.
I tried Kettner’s steak tartare. Sitting in the middle was a clever artichoke cream which looked like set egg white supporting a golden yolk. The finely chopped steak and gherkins melded perfectly with artichoke and egg for the creamiest rich steak tartare I’ve enjoyed in quite awhile. I was also correct to be tempted by soft and silky poached Banham chicken with tender vegetables in a flavoursome broth. And a third tick in the box for great food. A French Chardonnay, Les Templiers, from Cotes de Thonge was a light inoffensive wine balancing each of our dishes.
We will certainly be returning regularly to this inspired interpretation of a classic. Maybe the Champagne bar will capture our imagination next time.
Two courses and wine for two people £137.25 including a well deserved tip. www.kettnerstownhouse.com